My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I finished this book in a marathon overnight reading session, interrupted by only a four-hour nap before I got back into it. (Thankfully my husband is also a reader and fully supported my endeavor). For those who avoid Stephen King because they don’t like horror novels, never fear – this one isn’t a horror novel. There are some gory and gruesome scenes, but they’re human-inflicted, not supernaturally-inflicted . Mr. Mercedes is more a detective thriller novel, if I had to classify it under a specific genre. (For me, the genre is “Stephen King” and that’s good enough for me – I love the man’s writing no matter what section of the bookstore each new release ends up in).
A brief synopsis, for those unfamiliar:
Mr. Mercedes tells the tale of a cat-and-mouse game between recently retired detective Bill Hodges and the “perk” in one of his rare unsolved cases – the Mercedes Killer, Brady Hartfield.
In the early morning hours of April 10, 2009, hundreds of people are lined up outside an auditorium waiting for a job fair to begin when a Mercedes plows into the crowd. Eight die; many more are injured. The driver escapes.
Bill Hodges, along with his partner, was the detective who investigated the case, but Hodges retires before the case is resolved. Depressed, lonely, and suicidal, one day he receives a letter in the mail. This letter is from the Mercedes Killer, and suddenly Hodges finds a reason to live again – to hunt down the man responsible for the deaths of those desperate job seekers before he can kill again.
The killer is introduced early in the story, a very disturbed – and very careful – man named Brady Hartfield who lives with his alcoholic mother. Another case where “the monster walks among us,” his coworkers (he has no friends) don’t suspect that the man they see every day is in fact a cold-blooded killer who’s already planning his next big event. Brady wants to up his personal body count, and is willing to die to do so. But first, he wants to bring Hodges down, either by driving him to suicide or, failing that, to kill the retired detective himself.
Hodges must determine the identity of the Mercedes Killer and stop him before he kills again – without being killed himself.
Stephen King is the master of suspense, and in this novel proves that he doesn’t need malevolent ghosts or evil vampires or telekinetic teenagers to keep the reader flipping the pages. I was hooked from page one, and was once again amazed at King’s ability to tell a captivating story that draws the reader in. King is great at dangling small little hints and tidbits of information to the reader, giving you just enough that you HAVE to keep reading to find out the rest of what happened. Brady Hartfield alludes to other incidents that occurred in his life, but the full story isn’t provided until much later in the book. (I couldn’t go to bed until after I’d reached that point in the novel. I just couldn’t – I HAD to find out the whole story).
The point-of-view shifts between Hodges and the killer, a technique that in the hands (keyboards?) of less capable writers can be confusing. King makes it look easy. The reader is “treated” to a front-row seat into the life and mind of the demented Hartfield, who obviously could have benefitted from some strong anti-psychotic medication. It’s also terrifying how realistically the character is portrayed (I was reminded of Ted Bundy in particular, with his surface charm that fooled so many people for so long). You may never look at your neighbors and co-workers in quite the same way again.
One line in particular struck me as I was reading this novel: “He returns his attention to her, a woman in her mid-forties who’s not afraid to sit in bright sunlight.” It’s a simple line, but to me it highlights King’s talent at observing life and using those observations to SHOW his characters instead of just telling us about them. Sure, he could have said “He saw that this forty-something woman is obviously confident in herself and her appearance,” but instead he takes something that all women past the age 30 or 35 know – that direct sunlight does nothing to improve the appearance of older skin – and uses that to show us the character’s poise and self-confidence.
It feels almost sacrilegious to say anything negative about a Stephen King book, but… the foreshadowing in this one was a bit heavy-handed at times. Worse, there were also a couple of instances where it was flat-out misleading (in my humble opinion). Without giving too much away (I hope), here’s a for example: if it’s said that a character is going to regret an action or a lack of action later in the story, then that action/lack thereof should be significant and have a major impact on the development of the rest of the story. Instead, a couple of times those bits of foreshadowing were just half-lies without much importance to the story, and never really came to fruition. I feel like they were placed in the text only to keep me reading. It worked, but I feel just a little bit betrayed by the whole thing. That being said, it’s still without a doubt a five star book, and I’ll still gladly sacrifice another night of sleep when Revival is released in a few months.
Finally, after (or while) you’re reading this one, make sure you check out Under Debbi’s Blue Umbrella – there’s not a whole lot there right now, but it’s a neat little add-on, and I’m curious to see if more is added to it after more people have had time to finish reading the novel.
I was also amused by his references to his own earlier works, as I always am. 🙂