Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King
Published by Scribner on June 3, 2014
Series: Bill Hodges Trilogy #1
Genres: Crime, Fiction, Mystery, Thriller
Length: 436 pages Source: Overdrive
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In the frigid pre-dawn hours, in a distressed Midwestern city, 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 two new, unusual 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.
Retired detective Bill Hodges is wasting away in front of his television. That is, he’s wasting away until a letter makes its way to him, bearing the signature of a killer he wasn’t able to catch. Suddenly Hodges has something to pry him out of his Laz-E Boy and back on the streets, where he does a little investigating outside the law… to bring the City Center Killer – aka Mr. Mercedes – to justice.
Mr. Mercedes is told mainly from two perspectives – Bill Hodges and Brady Hartsfield. The hero and the villain. There is never any question of whodunnit in this novel, but rather: Will he get him? Who will die next? In typical King fashion, getting into Brady’s head is disturbing. I don’t particularly care for novels that drag on a gazillion character perspectives or offer a lot of gore, and I think Mr. Mercedes was perfectly balanced. The flow of this novel was easy and well-done.
As usual with my experience of King, the sidekicks tended to shine more than the main characters. Holly and Jerome were fantastic. These two tied the novel together neatly so it wasn’t just some book about a cantankerous old man and a cocky murderous kid. All in all I enjoyed it – I really did.
With all that out of the way, there were loads of issues here. We’ve got instalove between Bill and Janie that leans a little far out of the realm of believability for me. I know it’s a little unkind, but the odds of a young, recently divorced multimillionaire falling head over heels for an overweight man twenty or so years her elder… is unlikely. King also relied on technology to characterize Brady, but it became obvious to me early on that King’s knowledge of modern tech is mediocre at best. There were things Brady was doing that King made sound far more simple than reality and I’mma tell you right now that ctrl+alt+delete isn’t going to fix your frozen computer… try a hard reboot. I’m not in law enforcement and most my information comes from fiction, but I’m pretty sure there were police procedures that were wrong as well. I’m pretty sure you don’t call a retired cop and spill all the details of every boost you make. I’m also pretty sure that you don’t empty the entire department for one bust, no matter how big.
There were a lot of little details I could keep pointing out, but you get the gist. King skimmed on his research here. It didn’t bother me that much – outside of eliciting a chuckle or an eye roll – but then again… thrillers aren’t my usual genre. I do think if this was your favorite genre, some of the minutia may be a bit annoying, but I skimmed happily through it because I was entertained.
Surprisingly, this book wasn’t set in Maine? I think it was set somewhere near Chicago, but King definitely played this off as more of a psychological thriller. He focused more closely on his characters than his setting. You do get a sense of Brady’s house and Bill’s neighborhood, and definitely of the Mercedes, but everything else is a backdrop.
All in all, if you’re a fan of Stephen King or enjoy psychological thrillers, I think Mr. Mercedes is right up your alley. It’s disturbing (of course, you’re in the head of a killer) but not creepy, and the gore levels are very low. It has the shameful thrill of driving past a car accident, where you can see the smashed up cars and hope everyone is going to be alright. The epilogue was also great, and exactly the change I wanted from a book that was a bit predictable.