Book Review: Stephen King's "End of Watch"

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Decades into a prolific and successful career, Stephen King is still churning out trilogies. His latest follows the post-retirement years of Detective Bill Hodges. I just finished up End of Watch–the final novel of the trio. It appears the adventures of this intrepid ex-cop and his arch-nemesis "The Mercedes Killer" are wrapped up with a neat bow in this one. While not my favorite of the bunch (I'd be hard pressed to choose between Mr. Mercedes and Finders Keepers), End of Watch is a fantastic finish that brings in a lot of the mindeffery for which we know and love the King.

*Some spoilers

End of Watch finds Bill (real name Kermit) and his partner-in-crime-fighting Holly Gibney dealing with Bill's grim diagnosis of pancreatic cancer and the reappearance of Brady Hartsfield in their lives. Hartsfield, a serial killer who plowed down dozens of people in the first book of the trilogy, is a near-vegetable at the local hospital. How is it that Bill suspects the brain trauma patient in a recent rash of suicides?

Before End of Watch, King had largely refrained from the more fantastic aspects of his imagination with this trilogy. We've been given straight-up everyday evil against a flawed hero in two relatively normal, though outstandingly written, detective novels. King opened up the floodgates for the last hurrah, bringing back an old favorite of his–telekinesis.

Because of the supernatural twist hinted at in Finders Keepers and delivered in End of Watch, Hodges finds himself in the most challenging case of his busy retirement. Some might call it an easy way to bring back a crippled antagonist, but I found Hartsfield too intriguing, too disgusting to be done away with in a single book. It was fitting to have him back too see how he would fare against an again weakened Hodges in a second round.

I enjoyed the book on a few lazy days swinging in my hammock this summer. As usual, I was thoroughly entertained by Mr. King and bummed out when the book inevitably ended. I'll wrap this up by noting how much I loved King's treatment of the ever-anxious Holly Gibney. I have an anxiety disorder myself and enjoyed having a hero more on my level. I'm also very happy that King touched on themes of suicide and then included an encouraging note to those of us who struggle with those issues to seek help and be patient enough for the good times to come back. I was truly moved.

Shelly Barclay

"Speaks the Nightbird" by Robert McCammon: Plot Summary and Review

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Speaks the Nightbird by Robert McCammon is a historical fiction novel about the imprisonment of an accused witch. It is a suspenseful, mysterious and well-written novel that delves into the moral issues of deception, greed, law and death. Robert McCammon wrote this immense novel after taking a hiatus from writing. He obviously came back as good at his craft as he ever was.

The story is centered around an aging magistrate named Isaac Woodward and his young assistant, Matthew Corbett, who are called to Fount Royal to oversee the trial of an accused witch–Rachel Howarth. At the start of Speaks the Nightbird, Matthew and Isaac are on their way to Fount Royal when they stop to stay the night in a shady tavern. They are robbed and attacked by the tavern’s despicable owners who force them to walk the rest of the way to Fount Royal. The weather is atrocious and Woodward gets sick immediately after their arrival.

In Fount Royal, Corbett and Woodward realize that most of the people of the town wish to get the trial over with and execute the witch. Isaac refuses to rush because of his health and his want of a fair trial. Slowly, they begin to learn all of the accusations aimed at Rachel. She has been accused of fornicating with the devil, manipulating residents, murder and various other acts of witchcraft. Matthew doubts her guilt from the start and begins to doubt it even more after spending a night with her in prison.

As Speaks the Nightbird progresses, the magistrate becomes gravely ill and is put under a lot of pressure to finish the trial. It eventually becomes clear that he is dying, but the founder of Fount Royal brings in a doctor to prolong his life to the point of cruelty, so that he may finish the trial. While the magistrate is sick in bed, Matthew does some investigating of his own and soon discovers the true culprit behind these crimes, but by then it is too late.

The magistrate is forced to find Rachel guilty. Matthew decides to break Rachel out after realizing he loves her. He decides to take her to Florida, but on the way he is attacked by a bear and cared for by natives. During his convalescence, Matthew finds a way to prove that Rachel is innocent. The rest of Speaks the Nightbird tidies up nicely thereafter. The magistrate dies, Rachel is exonerated and the guilty are brought to some form of justice.

Speaks the Nightbird does get off to a rather slow start, but the plot picks up momentum in the second part (it was originally published in two parts). You could say that some of the loose ends were left hanging for a little too long. There is a lot of suspense in the novel, but at times it was tedious to keep turning pages only to find that virtually none of your questions are answered until the last part of the novel. However, Speaks the Nightbird is a page-turner and an enjoyable novel.

Shelly Barclay