My first exposure to Apt Pupil was the movie starting Ian McKellen. While I remembered the premise, I didn’t really remember the details. Given that Stephen King is my favorite writer and greatest influence upon me as a writer, I thought I would give it a read. The end result was a bit mixed.
I liked the concept behind it. It’s a story of an old Nazi concentration camp warden, Dussander, being blackmailed by a boy, Todd Bowden, into telling him all sorts of luring World War 2 concentration camp stories. Todd, as it turns out, is a complete and utter psychopath. Dussander and Todd don’t particularly like each other. It’s really a relationship of each person using the other for their own needs. There are elements of it that are compelling, and the writing is vintage King, so it’s top notch, but there are some serious issues with it.
The first is characterization. Dussander and Todd dominate the book and neither of them are particularly likeable, although at least Dussander has a certain charm to him. Todd does not. Besides being a psychopath, he is also annoying and whinny. The other big issue is believability. The characters often don’t act in a believable manner. For one thing, they independently become serial killers preying on winos. Dussander is a feeble old man, and it’s not credible that he can overtake and kill all of these people. It’s also not believable that Todd can do all this while being a star athlete and valedictorian at his high school. The book has some definite plot holes. All in all, I would recommend reading it, but it’s nowhere near one of King’s better stories.