Review — Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King

June 15, 2014 - 5:19 pm No Comments

Stephen King
Hodder & Stoughton
405pp

Naughty Stephen King! Just eight pages into this book and I nearly missed my bus stop! Seriously, just eight pages in and I was engrossed.

King’s latest tome however is no horror. King has switched tactics and written a brand new, riveting thriller.

Meet Bill Hodges, retired cop and Brady Hartsfield ‘the one who got away’.

The novel starts in 2009, mid recession as Augie Odenkirk hopes to find a job at a local job fair, instead finding himself helping young Janice, also waiting in the job queue and her tiny baby. Yet amidst the tension building between desperate, hungry people, there is another tension slowly creeping through the crowd; something bad is coming. Something driving a Mercedes Benz.

He was going to buy Janice breakfast. It’s the last thought he ever has.

For retired detective Bill Hodges, life is a roller coaster of bad reality TV and staring at his gun, wondering whether it would be worth using it. Until he receives a letter through the post. A taunting, tease of a letter from the man known as The Mercedes Killer. And he is issuing Hodges a challenge. Unfortunately for Hodges it’s the most exciting thing to happen to him since his retirement.

The Mercedes Killer has given Hodges a reason to live again. But the killer is much closer than Hodges realises.

There is an incredible wry sense of humour to King’s writing, the narrative brimming with witty social observations and poignant political savvy. Hodges ‘voice’ is distinctive and strong, as his his characterisation. King’s use of dialogue is also bang on the money and grounds the story in a comfortable reality. There is no need for ‘he said’, ‘she said’, because characters are easily identifiable by tone of voice and colloquialisms. Throughout the novel we also see evidence of just how well read and aware Stephen King is, with references to Of Mice and Men, Nietzsche and Obama. As the narrative switches point of view from Hodges to Hartsfield we get inside the head of retired detective and killer and the novel becomes gripping. Seeing the world from Brady’s point of view is strangely compelling. A guilty pleasure even. Yet very disturbing. And as we learn more about Brady the narrative becomes very dark. Like watching one of those reality TV battles King refers to at the beginning of the book. King also makes a few existential nods to his own horror novels, such as Christine and IT, in the book as well. King has obviously researched police procedure very well and has really delved deep into the cop psyche with his portrayal of Hodges. Yes, there is some doubt about the extent to which Hodges goes to in his pursuit of Hartsfield, however, the eraser needs to ‘get’ that the chase is now Hodge’s entire reason for living. It’s a game of chess with death at stake. And the worm finally turns, you want to cheer. In the final third as we start to see a conclusion on the horizon the tension really rockets up. My only gripe is that a couple of instinctual connections Hodges makes to the case are a little weak; he just seems to jump to the right conclusion. Despite this minor issue, the book is truly great; great characters, a high level of tension, a dark thread throughout it and a doozy of an ending. Well done Mr King

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