Shrewsbury, Massachusetts- These days, it seems like all the hot authors are writing crime fiction. JK Rowling did pretty well for herself under her pen name Robert Galbraith (and the sequel to Cuckoo’s Calling, The Silkworm, is hitting bookstores soon so keep an eye out for that review vigilant reader). Now, Stephen King has decided to give tribute to the crime noir tales of James Cain and Elmore Leonard with his own macabre detective story: Mr. Mercedes.
One morning at a job fair, a Mercedes plows through the crowd of people waiting, killing eight and injuring many more. The killer was never caught. Months later retired cop Bill Hodges gets a letter from the killer that eluded him that day in the Mercedes. What follows is an intricate game of cat and mouse seen from both sides of the coin.
Mr. Mercedes is a thrilling and addictive read, simmering with the pulpy language that harken back to the dime novels King grew up reading. Though not the most original premise in fiction, King makes the story his own, taking us on a wild ride of twists and turns building to a surprising conclusion. King decides to implement a slow motion tragedy to the proceedings by presenting both the views of the detective and the killer he is trying to catch.
The characters King’s created are pretty good. The only characters that could have had more of a gradual build into the story are the two young teens that become Hodge’s partners, Jerome and Holly. Though fun to read, they suddenly get thrust into the spotlight a little too late into the plot. Hodges is a standard King hero, has most of the right answers, but never quite all of them. He makes for a rootable man on the verge of getting his life back, but his journey isn’t as fun as the man he’s trying to catch.
Following the disturbed Brady Hartfield is fascinating and he is one of the best King villains in recent memory. Hartfield is reminiscent of another of King’s beloved creations: Greg Stiltson. In fact, a lot of Mr. Mercedes’s structure is a lot like The Dead Zone: both stories of two men destined to be thrust together. For a moment it makes you fear that perhaps King’s well of creativity is starting to run dry, but when you least suspect it, he pulls you back in.
What makes Mr. Mercedes so fun to read is how unlike yet a lot like a Stephen King book. The genre is something that King is not completely used to writing, but fits into like Humphrey Bogart in a fedora. Showing us the bomb under the table and making us sweat about it is an old school style of suspense that is welcomed in this novel. It’s by no means the best novel King’s ever written, but it is a pulse-pounding adventure start to finish.
Mr. Mercedes is available in bookstores everywhere and at your local library