I’ve waxed lyrical about Stephen King before so you all know that I’m a big fan. He’s an author who I discovered in my teens and have really enjoyed revisiting this past year; it started with It on hols last year and I’ve subsequently been enjoying some of his newer work, including The Outsider and most recently the Bill Hodges Trilogy, which kicks off with Mr Mercedes.
I love a good trilogy – why only enjoy characters once when you can get to see them again in a series I say – and thought Mr Mercedes set up the storyline well, as did my husband, but despite his 57thnovel winning the 2015 Edgar Award for Best Novel from the Mystery Writers of America, after reading a fair few reviews online, the jury appears to be still out on this one.
The key head scratcher appears to be the change of genre in that this is very much a crime thriller and a departure from the horror/fantasy space that Stephen King occupies so well. Now I love a good thriller/crime romp, and used to devour the likes of James Patterson, Mark Billingham, Michael Donnelly and Terr Gerritsen back in the day so I was intrigued to see how he approached this tried and tested formula.
He brings his usual depth of characterisation and a cast of slightly odd characters which I enjoyed very much. We meet the protagonist Bill Hodges, a divorced detective, who is struggling with retirement and suicidal thoughts, going through the motions in a very lonely existence, who is shocked out of his stupor by a goading letter from Mr Mercedes, an unconscionable killer who plowed into a pre-dawn crowd at a job fair, severely injuring many as well as killing eight people including a baby. The fact that he didn’t catch this killer has haunted him and he is all too willing – retired or not – to pick up the chase. So, begins the game of cat and mouse that sees him provoking this psychopath in a series of email exchanges and ultimately the race to stop him committing his next heinous crime.
The supporting cast of characters are vintage King; Brady Hartsfield – the sinister Mr Mercedes himself – who is an emotionally disturbed man in his late twenties living with his alcoholic mother with whom he has an incestuous relationship and his merry band of misfits, who team up to help him; Jerome Robinson, Hodges’ bright young neighbour and protégé and Holly Gibney, a fragile middle-aged computer wizard who is battling her inner demons and mental illness yet is committed to catching her cousin’s killer.
Some might say that they’re cliched – and I kind of agree – but it still works.
Whilst it could be said that it’s a fairly typical ‘race against time’ thriller, it’s not your average whodunnit as the killer is revealed very early in the piece, so it becomes more a battle of wits and an exploration of how his background and a series of events and circumstances have shaped him into the person that he is today.
And I believe this to be one of King’s many strengths; how he shows in meticulous and chilling detail that evil can be present, behind the most mundane façade and happiest of exteriors. The evil within you might say. And it rarely wears a clown suit and lives down a sewer!
Would I recommend it? Well I’m already half way through the second in the series (Finders Keepers) so that’s a big yes from me and I’ll let you know how the series fares when I’ve finished it!