The Long Walk is easily my favorite of the Bachman books that I have read (at this point I haven't read either Thinner or Blaze, so this could change). And not by a slim margin. This is easily the most solid premise (100 teenage boys forced to walk until only one remains), the most well-rounded protagonist (Ray Garraty, of Maine), a solid group of supporting characters, and a damned nihilistic ending that works well in the context of the greater narrative.
If there is one thing that unites the various Bachman works (Rage, The Long Walk, Roadwork, The Running Man, Thinner, The Regulators, and Blaze are the current line up), it is the dark nihilistic tones and endings that they have. Evil is rarely defeated, and if it is, it is at far too high a cost. The Long Walk embodies this as the reader follows the slow degradation of the core group of boys being followed, cheered on by a crowd that calls for their blood.
What King does well here is slowly build throughout the novel. All of the participants volunteered for this, and at first they love the adulation of the crowd. They are eager to meet The Major - a military figure who is apparent dictator of this futuristic United States. As the novel progresses though, The Major becomes not only an object of scorn, but of hatred. And the crowd stops focusing on individuals within and becomes The Crowd, an amorphous creature that terrifies the Walkers.
Ray Garraty is a solid protagonist. He doesn't quite know why he feels the need to enter The Walk, but steadfastly refuses to step down when given the opportunity. And he's likeable, which, after the parade of horrid protagonists scattered throughout the short stories of Night Shift, was a welcome change.
King also manages to differentiate the other Walkers quite well. The majority aren't named, but those that are all manage to have distinct personalities, something that troubled King somewhat in The Stand. Peter McVries is the standout of the supporting characters to me, with Stebbins being a close second. Even a few barely-named Walkers get solid characterization, which shows King's improvement at quickly sketching together distinct personalities.
But the story is the biggest selling point for this novel. Published in 1979 originally, one could easily see this as a metaphor for the reality TV craze that came about 20 years later. It is horrifically realistic, making one think of the gladiatorial games of Rome in a present day setting. Some will credit The Running Man for that prophetic vision, but The Long Walk truly captures the essence of what could eventually come.
Movie?: None at the moment, though the rights have been secured by Frank Darabont
Dark Tower?: No connection
Child Deaths?: 99 of them for certain, the last is ambiguous
Penis Talk?: Garraty gets an erection after fondling a female fan, another walker named Gribble gets one that ultimately leads to his death. McVries offers to give Garraty a handjob, but it is unknown on whether he is serious.