|Cover art for "Mr. Mercedes"|
by artist or publisher)
So, I just finished reading Stephen King's award-winning detective novel "Mr. Mercedes." (Well, not just finished. I read the sequel before I could stop reading long enough to write this review.) To put it right out there, I completely and utterly enjoyed it. With the exception of one device I found a little annoying, it was excellent. The pacing was great, the characters rich and the bad guy excruciatingly creepy.
There be spoilers ahead.
"Mr. Mercedes" opens on an all too real setting that addresses the recession and shows the desperation of working class Americans in stark relief. You get a glimpse at an average guy waiting in line at a job fair insanely early in the morning hoping to land a job that will keep him above water. You warm to him as he meets a young mother who had to bring her baby out on this cold night so she could continue to provide for her child. Your mind will start to weave a tapestry that centers on these characters, but don't get used to them. Just a few pages in, I was kicked in the teeth by Stephen King. I can't recall another opener from him that is anything like it.
The meat of "Mr. Mercedes" comes soon after the open. You meet retired police detective Kermit (Bill) Hodges, who is deeply depressed and still brooding over the biggest case of his life–The Mercedes Killer. He didn't catch the guy, but the guy soon catches up with him. In a game of cat and mouse that never drags, the two dance around each other while one finds new purpose in his life and the other plans further atrocities.
Bill Hodges is likable, as are a few of Bill's friends, but the most memorable character is Mr. Mercedes himself. King succeeded in making him truly loathesome. I can't think of a single redeeming quality. Jerome, the teen that mows Hodges' lawn, is quirky and intelligent. I liked this character as well, but King had him lapse into Detta Walker-like lingo as a joke too many times for my taste. I found myself thinking that this would annoy me if someone I knew did it, so I got a little exasperated whenever Jerome did it. It wasn't annoying when Detta did it because it was how she talked. Really, this is my only criticism and it's not a biggie.
Stephen King has had a few books that didn't resonate with me. "Mr. Mercedes" is not one of them. King is at his best, like he is most of the time, throughout the novel. I strongly recommend it, even to people who avoid King because they don't like horror. This is not horror, though it has horrific moments. This is a detective thriller that covers an act of terror from every angle. And it's good.