Mr Mercedes – Stephen King
In an effort to get through my huge backlog of “to be read” books I’ve made a vow not to buy books on their release dates. There are a few authors who will always be an exception. Stephen King is one of them. This year he has two books out. This is the first.
A cat-and-mouse suspense thriller featuring a retired homicide detective who's haunted by the few cases he left open, and by one in particular - the pre-dawn slaughter of eight people among hundreds gathered in line for the opening of a jobs fair when the economy was guttering out. Without warning, a lone driver ploughed through the crowd in a stolen Mercedes. The plot is kicked into gear when Bill Hodges receives a letter in the mail, from a man claiming to be the perpetrator. He taunts Hodges with the notion that he will strike again.
Hodges wakes up from his depressed and vacant retirement, hell-bent on preventing that from happening.
Brady Hartsfield lives with his alcoholic mother in the house where he was born. And he's preparing to kill again.
Only Hodges, with a couple of misfit friends, can apprehend the killer in this high-stakes race against time. Because Brady's next mission, if it succeeds, will kill or maim hundreds, even thousands.
Stephen King is best known for his horror novels, but every now and then he delves into books that do not contain any supernatural elements. Whilst this might displease some fans, this is fine for me, as arguably these books are actually stronger stories.
Mr Mercedes is essentially a cat and mouse thriller between a retired detective and the criminal responsible for a high profile crime he never managed to solve. The story is told from detective’s (Bill Hodges) point of view, although we do get an insight into the criminal’s (Brady’s) view point as well as the occasional scene told from others.
When we meet Hodges, he is at a loss of what to do with his existence. He misses his life in the police and has no one at home to spend his days with. His time is spent watching day time TV and contemplating suicide. It is only when he receives a letter from the killer he never caught that he regains a sense of purpose in his life.
As always King’s strength is his characters. Despite the dark place in his life, Hodges is instantly likeable. For someone considering ending their life, he is not full of bitterness, or languishing in self-pity. He is more the type who has just accepted that there is nothing left for him in this world.
Hodges should go to the police with the new evidnce, but something in the way the killer constructs the letter: the red herrings and the taunts included within, sparks a forgotten fire in Hodges and excitement he forgot he possessed.
What follows is a fascinating study of a man who is not only possessed with a tenacity to find the killer that got away and of one who is rediscovering himself. It is touching to see his interaction with a rag tag group of friends and how he finds love again.
Each of these characters are great in their own right, with the standout being Jerome. Jerome starts off as an educated young lad who mows Hodge’s lawn but also helps with everyday things such as fixing his computer. The friendship that forms between the two of them is touching and organic as Jerome becomes more like a new partner for Hodges.
Brady on the other hand is an excellent villain. Whilst the acts he commits are despicable, King portrays his background so well, that whilst you never feel outright sympathy towards him, you do experience a certain comprehension for the way he is. Brady is your above average villain and not just cartoonish in any way.
The interaction between Hodges and Brady is restricted primarily to messages in a private chat room. Despite, Brady appearing the cleverer of the two it is Hodges that continues to gain the upper hand, constantly getting under Brady’s skin. It is intriguing and tense, especially in how King writes the messages, often stating the character has left one and then not showing it until several pages later. It is a nice technique that ratchets up the tension.
The investigation is also clever and logical, especially how it unfolds. King is an experienced writer obviously, but considering he does not specialise in the crime genre, it is great to see him hold his own with the best.
The plot builds to a major showdown and a race against the clock. What is nice to see, is that the reader knows Brady is not a stupid criminal who when he gets to the final act of the story will spend precious time making a grandiose speech about how just he is thus allowing the hero to save the day. It makes for a great climax where you really don’t know what to expect. Suffice to say I was not disappointed.
Overall, this was an excellent addition to King’s impressive library. The characterisation is excellent and oh did I say it was tense?
My rating: 8.7