Book: “Mr. Mercedes” by Stephen King
Publishing Info: Scribner, June 2014
Where Did I Get This Book?: Audiobook from the library!
Description: In the frigid pre-dawn hours, in a distressed Midwestern city, hundreds of desperate unemployed folks are lined up for a spot at a job fair. Without warning, a lone driver plows through the crowd in a stolen Mercedes, running over the innocent, backing up, and charging again. Eight people are killed; fifteen are wounded. The killer escapes.
In another part of town, months later, a retired cop named Bill Hodges is still haunted by the unsolved crime. When he gets a crazed letter from someone who self-identifies as the “perk” and threatens an even more diabolical attack, Hodges wakes up from his depressed and vacant retirement, hell-bent on preventing another tragedy.
Brady Hartsfield lives with his alcoholic mother in the house where he was born. He loved the feel of death under the wheels of the Mercedes, and he wants that rush again.
Only Bill Hodges, with a couple of highly unlikely allies, can apprehend the killer before he strikes again. And they have no time to lose, because Brady’s next mission, if it succeeds, will kill or maim thousands.
Mr. Mercedes is a war between good and evil, from the master of suspense whose insight into the mind of this obsessed, insane killer is chilling and unforgettable.
Review: One of the best things to take with me on vacation is a big ol’ stack of books. And even though I almost never get through as large a stack as I think I’m going to (what with vacation having lots of distractions), I usually get through at least two. This las vacation I brought “End of Watch”, the last in a trilogy by Stephen King, and given that it was a thriller I thought that I would just write up a review and call it a day. But then I remembered that I had read books 1 and 2 before Serena and I started this blog. So, taking a page out of the Book of Serena, I am going to review the first two books in the Bill Hodges Trilogy before I tackled the third (with spoilers abound). So that means we are going waaaaay back to when I read “Mr. Mercedes” last year.
When we start “Mr. Mercedes”, King paints a very bleak picture of a blue collar town in the midst of the most recent recession. King has always done a very good job of depicting the darker side of small town life, and while our setting isn’t exactly small, the feelings of class divides and suburban vs urban are in full swing, even though almost everyone is hurting financially. That is possibly just adding salt to the wound that is the Mr. Mercedes massacre that opens this book. A bunch of people are lined up outside of the town civic center, waiting for hte doors of a job fair to open. While there are a limited number of jobs to be found inside, hundreds upon hundreds of desperate people are hoping that this is their chance…. only to be mowed down by a maniac in a stolen Mercedes. Going into the book I thought that perhaps this was going to be like many other noir detective stories, with our private investigator (in this case retired detective Bill Hodges) solving the puzzle with us only seeing his perspective.
But then King went and overturned my expectations, because almost immediately we got to see into the life and mind of Mr. Mercedes himself, Brady Hartsfield. This is the kind of guy that kills a bunch of innocent people just for funsies, and then tries to goad a retired detective into suicide by sending him a nasty little letter mocking the fact that he never found him. He works at a floundering discount electronics store, and as an ice cream truck driver, using the latter occupation to spy on Hodges. He’s basically the worst, and he is also one of the best damn things about the book. I love that we got to see into the very nastiness and awfulness of his mind, and King presented his background and home life in such a vivid and horrific way that the reader gets to see why he was the way he was, but not once feels at all bad for him. Brady Hartsfield was certainly a created monstrosity, but that’s no excuse. He is a villain that makes your skin crawl and sets your teeth on edge, as only King can write them.
And then there is Bill Hodges. He’s overweight, he’s cynical as all get out, and he fits the hard boiled detective model pretty handily. He is working outside of the law in a way, he has a spunky sidekick (in that of Jerome Robinson, a neighborhood teen who mows Hodges’ lawn for him), and even gets to start up an affair with a comely client, Janey. Janey is the sister of Olivia Trelawney, whose Mercedes was stolen and used as a weapon. Olivia was hammered pretty hard by Hodges and his partner Pete while they were on the case (as they thought she must have left her car unlocked and made it available to the murderer), and Olivia eventually killed herself out of guilt. Janey hires Hodges in hopes of clearing her sister’s name. All pretty standard tropes, really….. But then King takes those tropes and tosses them out the window. Hodges is outside the law but maintains a pleasant relationship with his former partner, Pete. Jerome is not only young and spunky, he’s also incredibly computer savvy. And after tragedy befalls Janey, King paves the way for Holly Gibney to enter the fray, who is the true hero of this entire series, in my very honest opinion.
I need to gush about Holly and how much I love her. She is introduced as the cousin of Olivia and Janey, seen as perhaps just a strange and awkward relative who is just one of a number of strange and awkward relatives (though the others are certainly more on the unpleasant side). Holly is nervous, anxiety ridden, and it is implied that she is somewhere on the Autism/Asperger’s spectrum as well. But when her cousin is killed, she steps up to the plate and demands that she is allowed to help find the man who has brought so much pain to her family, and that of many families. King writes Holly in a sensitive and delicate way, not making her just the perfect ‘savant’ stereotype that may have been tempting. Holly is very skilled but she is also very troubled, and seeing Hodges and Jerome interact with her and come to understand her was one of the best character progressions that I have seen come out of a book by King.
Watching all these three of these neat characters try to piece together the clues and hunt for Brady, all while seeing Brady plan and plot a few steps ahead of them, made for a very tense and satisfying read. King sets out the clues and the evidence for Hodges to solve, lets the readers solve some of it first, but then keeps on surprising us just as much as Brady surprises Hodges. There were times in the car that I was yelling out in fear and nervousness over how things were going to play out, which to me shows that the writer has done his job. There were a few things that kind of felt a bit convenient in terms of how conclusions were drawn or how situations came out, which didn’t really surprise me because King has been known to be somewhat guilty of deus ex machinas in his stories. This is both frustrating in that I wish he would just stop it, but at the same time it’s just something I’ve come to accept of him and his stories.
I should also mention that this is an audiobook that is read by the absolutely FABULOUS Will Patton, an actor whom you would recognize if you saw him but may not be familiar with by name only. You probably best know him as the Other Coach from “Remember the Titans”.
He is hands down my favorite audiobook narrator in the business, as he has this amazing knack for making his voice change ever so slightly for every character’s perspective. For having kind of a gruff voice, he’s great at voicing all characters. Will Patton is the best. It is known.
“Mr. Mercedes” is a very well written thriller. For thriller fans who may not like horror novels or scary stories, this may be a good way to see what King has to offer. It is a great start to a solid trilogy.
Rating 8: A very tense and creepy thriller, with lots of great characters. King takes the noir novel and makes it his own.
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