King, Stephen. Mr. Mercedes.

NY: Scribner, 2014.

King has written a huge number of novels over the years, and while many of them are first-rate writing, most of them also are simply not to my taste. I don’t do horror, really, or stories about the supernatural. But this one is a considerable departure in that regard — except for the horror that people in the real world visit upon one other.

Bill Hodges is a recently retired police detective in an unnamed Midwestern city (it feels a lot like Cleveland or Toledo, though), living by himself, and he’s having a tough time surviving with only daytime TV to keep him occupied. His father’s police .38 has become his constant companion as he sits and thinks about the easy way out. One of his last big cases, still unsolved, involved a psycho driving a large Mercedes sedan into a crowd waiting for entrance to a job fair, killing eight and injuring many others. The car had been stolen from Olivia Trelawney, an old lady who apparently left her keys in it, and the media and the general public jumper on her for “enabling” the massacre. Now Olivia has committed suicide and her niece, Janey Patterson, wants to know what really happened, so she enlists Hodges’s help.

But this isn’t a “whodunit,” exactly, because we quickly discover that the driver of the Mercedes was Brady Hartsfield, a deeply disturbed young man with a problematic relationship with his mother, who is also very, very intelligent. He enjoys playing games with Hodges, writing him carefully misleading letters tweaking him about his failure to figure things out and hinting at future atrocities — because there is certainly going to be a repeat.

King is very, very good at delineating fascinating and highly individualistic characters. This time, that includes Holly Gibney, Janey’s cousin, who is nearly forty herself but is also a very fragile person with the personality, in many ways, of a teenager. But she has unplumbed depths, which we discover as Bill’s unofficial investigation deepens. Then there’s Jerome, a Black teenager in Bill’s neighborhood who mows his lawn for pocket money but whose parents are upper-middle-class and whose stellar academic achievements mean he’s heading for the Ivy League. Holly and Jerome become Bill’s assistants in the search for the Mercedes killer’s identity and we follow their efforts to figure things out, even though we often know more than they do about what’s really going on. And we watch Brady’s mind as it begins to come unwound in interesting and scary ways.

King is also very good at summoning up the minutiae of everyday life, with lines like the dozing detective slipping his hands “into the mystic cool pocket under the pillow.” Or describing Hartsfield as “a random bundle of homicide.” Or, “You might think you know what you’re risking , but you don’t. When you’re seventeen, the future is strictly theoretical.” He’s certainly a master of the language. This is the first of what became a trilogy and I’ll be getting to the next episode in short order.

Published in: on 7 August 2016 at 3:05 am  Leave a Comment  
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