Book Review of Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King
Title: Mr. Mercedes
Author: Stephen King
Genre: Thriller/Mystery – First Book in the Bill Hodges trilogy
Det. Ret. Bill Hodges: Retired police detective after 40 years on the job. He’s divorced and has one grown daughter he has contact with only occasionally.
Holly Gibney: 40ish, extremely insecure and has erratic behavior mostly because of the constant badgering by her mother. However, she’s very smart and great with computers. She’s the niece of the woman Bill is dating.
Jerome Robinson: In his late teens and about to graduate high school and go on to Harvard. He is also Bill’s landscaper and neighborhood computer whiz. Jerome and his family are African-American.
Brady Hartsfield: Mass murderer and innocuous looking, unsuspecting bad guy who works at Best Buy. He’s good with computers and lives with his mother (Deborah) who he has an unusually close relationship with.
Mr. Mercedes is the first of a trilogy for Stephen King. I read this book after the second in the series (Finders Keepers). I hadn’t realized it was part of a trilogy. The main hold over is Ret. Det. Bill Hodges. A retired police detective veteran.
In The Beginning
The book begins with a heart wrenching mass murder that kills at least 8 people and wounds many more. They are job seekers standing in line before the Job Fair opens for the day.
It’s early in the morning when a dark Mercedes suddenly hurls itself from the parking lot to plow down the unemployed. It’s sad on so many levels and feels waaay too real in this day and age.
King has always been good at poking at our primal fears.
He’s also been good at weaving a great story together and offering us a haunting glimpse into fictional characters that feel like our neighbors. And so it is in Mr. Mercedes.
King seems to excel at starting off a novel in two separate places. We are introduced most often the bad guy in the beginning. We’re shown his environment, he deeds (or The Deed) and some of his connections. We are then introduced to the hero. One or both of the characters are completely unaware of the other.
This sets the stage for the On-Coming-Train Effect as I have come to call it. What I mean by that is the story will slowly converge like two trains coming toward each other. Neither conductor is aware that their trains are on the same track.
As we read we learn more about how the other train ended up on that track. We continue to watch them… converge. We know they will collide, but when? Where? Who will come out in the end and with what damage?
That’s how I felt reading Mr. Mercedes and in particular Finders Keepers. In fact, I find King’s writing to be more extraordinary now than ever.
He’s taken out a lot of the sensational gore in his writing and left in only the necessary blood. It doesn’t feel excessive yet it gets the job done. It’s just enough to make us uncomfortable, squeamish and avoid dark hallways. It’s just enough to make his “bad guy” ring frightfully true.
So it is with Brady Harstfield. A sad little fellow we’ve all seen and most likely interacted with at the local big box retailer. Utterly generic. Devoid of charisma and steeped in desperation and denial. Who can’t relate to that on some level?
Hartsfield is one of the genre’s less flashy villains, yet he still makes our skin crawl. I hate spoilers in reviews so I won’t get too specific. What I will say is there’s an “unnatural” relationship with his mother and a thorough disconnect with empathy. Some people are born that way. Some people are made that way. In Brady’s case, it seems to be a combination of both.
Ret. Det. Bill Hodges has left the force just six months prior with a nagging unsolved case. The perp of this case was dubbed Mr. Mercedes because of the murder weapon. Hodges left feeling thoroughly unsatisfied and stymied by their progress.
Hodges then receives a letter that (in his mind) opens the case for him again. Being almost computer literate forces Bill to reluctantly recruit two unlikely and worlds-apart sidekicks.
One is Jerome. Hodges’s teenage, African-American lawn-boy who’s smart as a whip and great with computers. And… the niece of the woman he briefly dates.
Holly’s nearly middle aged, acts a like a teenager and requires medication to keep her self sabotaging behavior in check. She is also smart as a whip and great with computers if completely socially inept.
In the end, they play a critical role in helping the retired detective hunt down the bad guy.
What The Author Accomplishes
King makes this unlikely trio make sense to the reader. We can see them working together and it just works. Mostly because they all have respect for each other even if they don’t always understand one another.
Mr. Mercedes is a joy to read. King’s writing is akin to cranking the knob on a tap. The water starts out cool, then tepid, then flows out slightly hotter with every turn until it burns.
I think what makes King’s characters so compelling is his complete lack of condescension. He doesn’t pander to his characters. No matter how small or how large a part they play. They are unapologetically human. With all their flaws and levities exposed for the reader to see.
It’s as if his characters are saying, “Judge as you will, but we will be deemed real and therefore everlasting.”
I can tell you that is exactly what happens. You think of King’s characters and their doings long after you put the book down.
It’s the sign of an undeniable master of the medium.
The Mr. Mercedes trilogy is absolutely worth the read. I can’t wait to get started on the last book of the series… End of Watch.