Wednesday, July 15, 2015

MR. MERCEDES by Stephen King

When Stephen King gives us a detective novel about a sociopathic killer, we can assume that there will be plenty of nail-biting suspense and some collateral damage.  Bill Hodges is a retired cop who needs a reason not to eat a bullet.   The guy who intentionally drove a stolen Mercedes into a line of job seekers while Hodges was still on the force gives him just such a reason, in the form of a taunting letter.  Hodges locks up his gun and turns off his TV to take another shot at tracking down the Mercedes killer without telling the police.  Instead, he enlists the help of Jerome, his computer-savvy, Harvard-bound lawn guy, and Janey, the sister of the now deceased owner of the Mercedes.  Later, he adds Janey’s niece, the neurotic, insecure Holly to his team.  Holly is another character in need of purpose and proves to be quicker at figuring some things out than either Hodges or Jerome.  We know from the getgo that the killer is Brady Hartfield.  He does double-duty as both a computer technician and an ice cream man, so that his ubiquitous presence in the neighborhood doesn’t draw suspicion, except from a woman with no credibility, because she thinks extraterrestrials live among us.  Hodges keeps finding that he’s jumped to inaccurate conclusions, with dire consequences, and the plot frequently defies logic, with Hodges’s helpers guessing people’s computer passwords right and left.  Also, after Brady makes a death threat, I expected Hodges to become a little more cautious, but no such luck.  I wasn’t sure if Hodges just felt that he could outsmart Brady eventually or if he thought sacrificing a few lives to prevent a mass murder was worth the risk.   I got a good chuckle out of the author’s allusion the movie Christine, based on his own novel.  This was a definite clue that King is not taking himself too seriously here, and maybe we shouldn’t, either.  On the other hand, I couldn’t help being aware that King himself almost died after being hit by a car, and I have to wonder if that event is still his own personal horror story and possibly propelled him to write a novel about a murderous driver.

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