Some of us can talk late into the night about what our favourite story is, and very often the horror novel Cujo (Viking Press,1981) is the one that I settle on. I like Cujo because of how much is done with so little, and in essence, the horror of one woman and her son trapped in a car is so complete and well executed that it’s this one that regularly wins my prize. Set in Castle Rock, Maine, Cujo tells the story of a good-natured St Bernard dog, that goes rabid 'n' crazy, winning Stephen King the BFS (British Fantasy Society Award for 1982)

Something of a neglected classic, Cujo shouldn’t be scary at all, even though it is. A big lumbering dog that goes mad, and a tale which oddly for King, has no supernatural element to it at all. Typical to King however are the family vignettes, with which the book are stuffed, and which are again some of his best — including the abusive and domineering husband Joe Camber, and the town loser, Gary Pervier, both effortlessly thrown on the page as real as any Maine American small town neighbour you’d care to look up. Stephen King's Wikipedia page quotes the author as saying he was drinking heavily when he wrote the book, but I don’t think this reveals much. It may act as something of an apology which a reader like me does not feel is required (other than for maybe, the ending) but King does go on to say that he had subsequently felt that it would have helped his technique later if he had been able to remember how he approached this one.

Of course, there’s a kid, the four year old Tad Trenton, and it’s the child’s viewpoint that King does so well at, perhaps extending this skill into the viewpoint of the dog, which at first I had doubts about, but which turns out to be as fine a literary feat as anything on any prize list.

What emerges is pure heroism from Donna, Tad’s mum, carrying out her duty as only a mother could, although I have to say that I have stopped recommending the book because of its sad ending, which still bugs me to this day. As a reader, there’s not much you can do about that, and it’s odd that whereas most Stephen King books have greater adversaries in them than just one mad dog, usually the ending is what you’d expect, insofar as it is what we readers like to call ‘happy’. There is of course a film of Cujo (with the rather awkward strapline ‘Now there’s a new name for terror’), and it’s a fairly modest and unexciting affair, for many reasons — although I’m sure a first rate director, cast and crew could have made something much more menacing. For box office reasons, however, the film does have a slightly happier ending, so despite its weaknesses, it’s a good antidote to your own desperation and loss after reading the novel.