Stephen King has delighted his fans with the release of two new novels this year. The first was Mr. Mercedes which was released in June 2014. It is the first book in a forthcoming trilogy that will be followed by Finders Keepers in 2015.
The plot line in Mr. Mercedes is a classic one and King does a wonderful job with it, even if the tome is not exactly up to par with the rest of his work. It follows a retired detective, Bill Hodges, who goes back into action after receiving a letter from a criminal he once chased. A man in a clown mask driving a stolen Mercedes plows down dozens of bystanders as they wait outside a local job fair. Now Hodges must quickly learn the identity of the man before he commits another atrocity. The story employs certain clichés common to hard-boiled crime fiction that King is obviously a fan of – his short novel The Colorado Kid delved into the same genre.
The opening of Mr. Mercedes sees the aforementioned massacre occurring at the City Center, which King brilliantly brings to life by telling the story from the perspective of two of the victims. He gives the reader a firsthand look at the sense of desperation these people feel – they need a job so badly that they are willing to wait all night in the cold for an employment opportunity. Given that the country still has fresh memories of the tanked economy, King no doubt touched a lot of nerves and heartstrings with this plot point, and made the killer – dubbed “Mr. Mercedes” – all the more evil in the eyes of his readers.
Where King excels in Mr. Mercedes is the same place that has always made him shine as an author, and that is his ability to bring to life rich and well-developed characters. King alternates between telling the story from the point of view of both the killer and the protagonist so the reader is provided insight as to the state of mind of both characters. Mr. Mercedes is the most King-like of the two – a demented but cunning man, with a mind twisted by a dysfunctional home life. King has given him a good deal of thoughtful inner dialogue to show this. Mr. Mercedes’ prowess with technology makes him a worthy foe against an aging detective who barely understands how to access his email.
Though there is nothing particularly special about Hodges as a character, what I enjoyed was his relationship with the two people who work alongside him in the hunt for Mr. Mercedes. Hodges’s teenage neighbor Jerome helps the 60-something retiree with lawn work, and also with that pesky computer as it becomes more pivotal in telling the story. The two have a special bond that is one of complete respect, despite their age and cultural differences. Holly Gibney, a quirky 42-year-old with mental problems who is still living with her parents, arrives later on in the story. And she is easy to warm up to because of her unusual nature and blunt personality. The three characters are a motley crew but somehow King makes them all work together and complement one another well.
In spite of having a lot that works in its favor, there are a few things that disappointed me about Mr. Mercedes. The storyline is one that has been done in some form or another many times over. And though King does throw in a couple shockers along the way, it’s still lacking some of the oomph that makes many of his other novels so noteworthy. Also, the relationship between Hodges and the Janelle Patterson character feels very forced, put in there just to validate Hodges when it really isn’t necessary.
I was also extremely disappointed by the ending. As the dual storylines build toward a climax, the reader is hoping for and expecting some sort of epic showdown in the end. Instead, the less-than-stellar climax is over far too quickly and concludes with more of a whimper than the bang that I wanted.
As the first novel in the coming Bill Hodges trilogy, Mr. Mercedes is a good jumping off point to explore the character further. But on its own, the novel feels like less than what King is really capable of creating.