The Regulators is a horror novel by Stephen King, written using his pseudonym Richard Bachman. The Bachman identity was "killed" by King in 1984 after the pseudonym was exposed but the introduction in The Regulators claims that Bachman wrote the book before he died and that the manuscript was just discovered by his widow. The Regulators and its mirror novel Desperation were both published in 1996 and represent parallel universes. One does not have to read Desperation to understand the story; the two books share a similar cast but are pretty much independent, even the characters' personalities are different.
The book is set in the fictional suburban town of Wentworth in Ohio, with some scenes occurring in another fictional place called Desperation, Nevada. Things are pretty normal until the arrival of a group of strange vehicles driven by equally strange-looking characters. The peaceful community suddenly becomes the target for violence, far from the reach of the police or even the military. In the midst of all these is an autistic boy who seems to be creating the cruel newcomers from his imagination, inspired by an old western movie named The Regulators and a set of popular toys called MotoKops 2200. Trapped in a neighborhood that is slowly changing into something straight out of a Western film and populated by mutant creatures, the residents must find a way to get out.
The Regulators is a love-it-or-hate-it book. If you go to Amazon, for example, you'll see that half of the reviews are from people who hate the book. I did not have high expectations with The Regulators but the book is much better than I expected. Stephen King is an iconic author but for me, his works are sometimes hit-or-miss (mostly hits like The Mist, The Shining, and Pet Sematary, but with some misses such as The Tommyknockers and Gerald's Game). To my delight, I found The Regulators hard to put down and I spent two nights reading it until dawn.
Some themes and characters echo those of other King stories, such as a quiet community being invaded by evil (Needful Things), people stuck in a certain place/dimension and having to band together to fight (The Mist, The Langoliers, Maximum Overdrive), a psychic child (The Shining, Firestarter), and the writer-hero (The Dark Half, Misery).
While I love Stephen King's novellas and short stories, one of the things I dislike about him as a novelist is his wordiness and the sing-song nature of some of his novels (the action scenes are interspersed with a lot of ho-hum descriptions and minute character details). In The Regulators, the pacing is faster and tighter, with the character building just enough to give each one a personality but not too much to drag the story. There are a lot of characters (more than 20) and in the beginning it is a struggle to keep track of their identities and relationships. There's a map drawn before the start of the story, showing the different houses and the residents. Still, remembering the characters is challenging at the start but gets easier as the story progresses. Some of these characters are likable, some are so annoying that you just want them to die. The book's ending is bittersweet but less cheesy than one can expect.
The book is gory, with several of the characters dying from being shot in the head or horribly mutilated. Unlike other books or movies where kids are always safe, here youth is no guarantee. If you have an issue with reading about violent things happening to minors, be warned.
Despite all the bloody deaths, the scene that I find the creepiest is the one where a zombie-like character sits in the desert with his "friend", oblivious that he is impaling himself to death. My favorite character dies in the second half of the book, catching me off-guard. Two details in the story distracted me though: 1) the neighborhood has already lost power then in one scene, a character tugs a string to turn on the fluorescent lights in his basement and 2) a character refers to another character as John then in the next sentence onwards refers to him as Jack.