Marie’s Reading: “Mr. Mercedes” by Stephen King

MrmercedesSo I’m only just slightly behind the times.  At least I got to Mr. Mercedes eventually, just in time for the second in the planned trilogy to arrive on shelves (Finders Keepers hit the street last week).

Bill Hodges is a retired detective considering suicide when the novel opens.  He spends his days watching bad TV, eating too much, and playing with the idea of putting a gun in his mouth.  One day, Hodges receives a letter that snaps him back–it’s a missive from a mass killer styled “Mr. Mercedes,” who killed eight people when he drove a stolen Mercedes into a crowd.

The Mr. Mercedes case had belonged to Hodges before he retired, and he never solved it.  Now he’s determined to do so, before Mr. Mercedes can kill again–as Hodges is certain that he will.

Mr. Mercedes is a cinematic and suspenseful crime novel.  It’s also an engaging examination of an aging man who thought he was finished being given a renewed sense of purpose.  And it’s also a creepy, morbidly fascinating examination of the background and creation of a killer.

This novel has a lot of cross-genre appeal.  Horror fans, particularly those who enjoy human horror, will find a lot to like in Brady’s storyline, as well as the well-placed gore. Crime fans will probably respond to the well-constructed cat-and-mouse game as Hodges hunts for Mr. Mercedes.  Suspense and thriller fans might appreciate the slow, encompassing build that comes together with ever-increasing pace and urgency.

The one genre group I’m not positive about is straight-up mystery fans, oddly enough.  One note I kept finding online was that King himself calls this a “hard-boiled” detective novel.  I’m not entirely sure that it is.

You feel the looming threat because you know what Brady is up to, but this world isn’t bleak.  There aren’t mean streets.  As ever with Stephen King, the streets are regular (if depressed) streets, which makes the horrible things that happen so much scarier and so much more imaginable. Hodges is a nice man, a smart guy who clearly was a crackerjack detective, yearning for a sense of purpose and people to be there for.  All through the story he gives off an avuncular sort of vibe.  Perhaps it was my reading, but I never got “gritty” or “world-weary” or “streetwise” from this guy.  This story is a battle between good and evil (another King hallmark), and never once do you doubt what side Hodges is on.

Your mileage may vary, but I think you might be a little disappointed if you go into this book hoping for a traditional hard-boiled story.  You also know the entire time whodunit, and the suspense comes not from a puzzle but from seeing how the criminal will be foiled.  Stephen King also is never one to leave his universe entirely at rest and at peace, so you won’t find any traditional justice being served here.

All that said, this is a compelling read with twisted yet appealing characters, a creepy tone, and enough crazy that even citizens of Derry might arch an eyebrow.  If you like King’s work and haven’t tried this one yet, or if you want some crime that’s dark and twisty but very readable, definitely pick it up.



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