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Unofficial review: Mr. Mercedes, by Stephen King

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  • Unofficial review: Mr. Mercedes, by Stephen King

    Widgets Magazine
    The interesting shift in Stephen King’s career over the past 15 years or so has been from horror actually happening to horror being just around the corner. It’s not to say that people don’t die in his novels — they do, on that you may rely — but not in the same quantity as they did in King’s debut novel, Carrie, and not with the same gruesome style as in Needful Things.

    I guess even Stephen King can’t top poor Nettie Cobb getting knifed badly enough that her breakfast spilled out of her stomach onto the sidewalk.

    Moving away from the old shock style, though, has not dampened King’s ability to tell a gripping story. And so he has done in his latest missive, Mr. Mercedes. Perhaps influenced by his two previous attempts at crime fiction, The Colorado Kid and Joyland, King has crafted an honest-to-goodness detective novel, staying away from the supernatural and going for a gritty, nuts-and-bolts realism that feels both surprising and, strangely, comfortable.

    Our Hero this time around is Detective Bill Hodges (retired), who was very good at his job. But even the best detectives leave a few cases open when their time is up, and Hodges never could collar the person who drove a Mercedes-Benz into a crowd of job-seekers. So when Hodges receives a letter from a person claiming to be the Mercedes Killer, it eats at him, and he has to try to catch the guy. We see Hodges work the case with the help of a 17-year-old computer whiz and a mentally disturbed woman, while at the same time we get to see the villain planning his next attack while also trying to convince Hodges to kill himself. The story is told with King’s trademark gallows humor and skin-crawling detail and is very good at revealing bits of the mystery at a time, so the next surprise might appear at any turn of the 448 pages.

    I found the 17-year-old computer whiz, Jerome, to be a great character not because of his assigned trope — and while there is definitely some truth in younger people being more tech-savvy than their elders, King seems to believe that all the best techies are still too young to drink — but because of King’s flair for dialogue. Jerome switches between very polished, proper English and street jive at the drop of a hat, which is great fun. The mentally disturbed woman, Holly, is interesting and reminded me a bit of Carrie White, but she appeared fairly late in the book and didn’t get fleshed out as much. Hodges himself is well-designed, fitting the style of a detective very well, especially with the aftermath of his retirement (boredom, weight gain, thoughts of suicide) built in. And Mr. Mercedes himself … I won’t reveal too much of him, but let us say that he’s unsettlingly realistic. Sociopathic. Psychotic. Sadly, he’s also a whiz with an iPad. (The downside of Apple being monolithic and very good at branding is that nobody bothers to have the bad guy use a Surface.)

    King has said that Mr. Mercedes is the first of a likely trilogy, with the second planned for a 2015 release. While I grew up reading King’s more horrific works and love them dearly, I think this is an interesting direction for him to take, and I look forward to the next one, called Finders Keepers. Fans of good crime fiction should grab Mr. Mercedes, and fans of Stephen King probably already have.

    … still can’t get that image of Nettie’s stomach unloading onto the sidewalk. Twenty-three years, it’s been. Thanks, Steve.
    I recognize terror as the finest emotion and so I will try to terrorize the reader. But if I find that I cannot terrify, I will try to horrify, and if I find that I cannot horrify, I’ll go for the gross-out. I’m not proud.
    Stephen King

  • #2
    Re: Unofficial review: Mr. Mercedes, by Stephen King

    Originally posted by adc View Post
    And Mr. Mercedes himself … I won’t reveal too much of him, but . . . Sadly, he’s also a whiz with an iPad. (The downside of Apple being monolithic and very good at branding is that nobody bothers to have the bad guy use a Surface. . .
    Well, they do say that Apple isn't a company, its a cult. And once you're in a cult, well . . . its only a matter of time, right?

    Seriously, though, its a good review. I don't really follow Stephen King, so Mr. Mercedes wasn't even really on my radar before. Sounds like a good book, though.

    One quick question:
    Originally posted by adc View Post
    . . .I guess even Stephen King can’t top poor Nettie Cobb getting knifed badly enough that her breakfast spilled out of her stomach onto the sidewalk. . .
    That's from Needful Things, right?
    "The roaring of lions, the howling of wolves, the raging of the stormy sea, and the destructive sword, are portions of eternity too great for the eye of man."

    -William Blake, "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell"

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