MR MERCEDES by Stephen King
Available now in hardback and eBook from Amazon
Knawing away at the back of retired detective Bill Hodges’ mind is the one that got away – the man who mowed down innocent queueing job seekers in a Mercedes early one morning outside the city center one year previously, killing eight and injuring others. An event the police department and press coined as the City Center Massacre.
When a man claiming to be the Mercedes Killer makes contact with the overweight, depressed retired detective, it ignites something deep inside of him: a purpose to live, to catch the Mercedes Killer and put right that loose end, if not for himself, for all those who died at the hands of this madman.
Set in 2009, MR MERCEDES is bestselling horror author Stephen King’s first venture into crime thriller territory and he does so with a strong, heartbreaking opener that will have readers gripping the book very tightly. What evolves is a cat and mouse game between the killer and the retired detective, with each swapping the roles of the fish and the fisherman. Unlike most crime thrillers, the identity of the Mercedes Killer is revealed early on in the book, with the reader given a glimpse into the warped mind and world of the murderer. Without the ‘whodunnit’ aspect of the book to grip readers, it’s the ‘when’, ‘will’ and ‘how’ will Bill Hodges catch him and will the killer strike again?
I’ve seen many a Stephen King film adaptation but only read a few of his novellas, so this latest novel of his took me by surprise with his writing style. I was expecting something rather classic but instead we’re treated to a modern, free-flowing contemporary style that has the right structure to keep your hooked but at the same time is loose enough to read as though you’re hearing it first hand by your mate down the pub. King also sneaks in a reference or two to his previous works including Pennywise from I.T. and Christine.
As I mentioned, the opening of the book is strong and continues with a tense, tightly-knit story that eases a little yet progresses well until about halfway through. It is hereafter where it drops down a few gears and becomes a little amateurish compared to its solid opener, with pages dedicated to obvious plot points, characters suffering unusually brief emotions of where you’d expect prolonged regret and with the glimmer of claustrophobic thriller at vanishing point. The only way I can describe it is having a strong story like The Usual Suspects and it ending up just an average thriller by the final page, with an unsatisfying ending that doesn’t do the beginning half justice. The killer early on in the book is super smart and clever, but then stupidity seems to hit and it all goes a little downhill from there. That’s not to say it’s a bad book. Far from it. It’s just an average one which had high hopes and ambition that it never quite achieved nor delivered after the opening chapters.
The book does a great job of creating memorable characters. Kermit William Hodges is a retired detective with 40 years under his belt who’s at a loose end now that he’s left the force. The lure of putting his pistol in his mouth is too enticing, having spent the last few months staring at the television during the afternoons and late evenings from his La-Z-Boy, rotting his brain on shows as The Jerry Spring Show, Dr. Phil and Judge Judy (never named but obvious it’s them) and becoming overweight. When the Mercedes Killer makes contact, it breathes new life into him, and no longer does he toy with the revolver and thoughts of suicide. The killer himself is shown to be a heartless human being, with a background of abnormal behaviour and a perverse relationship with his own mother, which makes him an easy character to dislike. Other characters include timid Holly who suffers from OCD and overbearing mother, and Jerome Robinson, Hodges’ black gardener-cum-errand boy who’s a smart cookie living in a middle class area who likes to switch from his proper-spoken personality to Tyrone Feelgood Delight who talks in slang like when referring to the gardening as chos for hos.
MR MERCEDES is an enjoyable read, if not an entirely satisfying one when push comes to shove, but has enough of a rollercoaster of action and suspense to keep you turning each page, of which there are 405. Stephen King has confirmed that the book will be the first of a trilogy centred around the character of Bill Hodges, with the second Finder Keepers set to be published in 2015. Having grown attached to the characters, I’d be sure to read the second upon its release.