After listening to Joyland and Revival, it seemed appropriate to make a Stephen King book my next reading experience. I have a lot of his works in my to-read pile, but after liking those more recent titles, I figured I’d give Mr. Mercedes a shot because I’d seen that it kicked off a trilogy of stories featuring the main character, retired police detective Bill Hodges.
This one, from 2014, follows Hodges as his lackluster retired life gets interrupted and rejuvenated when a letter from a never-caught killer makes its way to his mailbox. Bill and his partner were lead on a case where a guy stole a Mercedes and drove it into a crowd of people waiting for a job fair, but they never figured out who he was (and probably wouldn’t had he not gotten cocky/bored and sent the letter in the first place).
King splits this story between Hodges and the killer himself, an amoral psycho named Brady who has a far-from-okay relationship with his mom and works low-paying jobs that offer unexpected benefits for the burgeoning nutbag. As he goes along, Hodges brings in a few different people to help him solve the case and eventually figure out what the killer’s last big act of violence might be.
Mr. Mercedes definitely stands out from many of King’s other works because there’s not one iota of the supernatural to be found aside from peoples’ occasional mention of gods and demons and the kind of thing you hear every day. This reminded me of Joyland quite a bit because, for the most part, that was a story about a guy trying to help people including a dead woman whose killer he wound up knowing personally. I wonder if that book helped lead him into this one in some way.
I also appreciated the story for zigging when I expected it to zag over and over again. So many of the killer’s plans seem to backfire and Hodges goes down different avenues than I’ve come to expect after watching too many by-the-numbers procedurals both on TV and in the movies. He brings in other people when his peers would go lone wolf and he’s not always right about his presumptions, but does have a solid profile on the killer that we come to find is mostly right (or already knew by the time he tells it to one of his companions).
I also liked how King structured the ending and which players he put into motion given the fact that I already knew that Hodges was going to star in two other books. Given what happened to a few other characters in the book leading up to that point, I really wasn’t sure who would walk away in the end.
There was one thing that bugged me, though. In all of the other King books I’ve read, he very clearly states where the action takes place. It’s usually somewhere in New England, but other places also pop up (parts of Colorado for instance which both The Shining and Misery take place in). In the case of Mr. Mercedes, he’s clearly working with a Midwest locale but refuses to name it! As someone from that area, it was driving me nuts. He name checks places like Toledo (my home town), Cincinnati and Cleveland and even calls the Indians the closest baseball team around, but where is it set?! The lake is also mentioned a number of times, but never exactly which one. This is just a minor quibble based on my area of origin and the author’s desire to play coy on location this one time. Ah well, I’m still a big fan of the book.
From here I’m moving into the first Dark Tower book. I’m not much of a fantasy fan, but figured since I’m on such a roll, I might give the relatively short book a try. I’m about halfway through at this point and not sure if I’ll continue into the second book (which I also have on hand), but will give it a fair shake as I go.