I seem to remember Stephen King announcing his retirement some years ago. And yet, the books keep coming – and I’m thankful for that.
I saved Mr Mercedes for my annual vacation (sorry to make you jealous, but I’m writing this review on my iPad, on the sundeck of the cruise ship Azura, just off the coast of Italy, while listening to Haydn’s Symphony 103 on my iPod).
I romped through Mr Mercedes in just a couple of days or so, pulled along by King’s easy style – the thing I’ve always most admired about his writing is that it is so immersive; the words fade away in your mind and it becomes like watching a film.
The book is a cat-and-mouse story; one where it’s often difficult to tell who is the cat and who is the mouse. Retired detective Kermit William Hodges (thankfully known as Bill to his friends) passes time by watching TV and gaining weight, until a letter arrives from the perpetrator of an unsolved crime, goading him back into life.
Brady Hartsfield is a man without conscience; he takes enjoyment from inflicting misery and has a somewhat unhealthy relationship with his mother. It’s often said that believable villains can’t be ‘all bad’ but there’s very little to redeem Brady. And Hodges is his latest target – but far from the biggest one in his sights.
As ever, King creates characters which are as believable as the person next to you. The pace of the book is almost unrelenting – there are several natural pauses as characters develop their relationships – and the plot twists in a way that real life does. Only one event I felt was foreshadowed too clearly; I won’t spoil it for you but I think you’ll know which one I mean, once you reach it.
Hodges becomes our friend; his good nature balanced by the ability to be tough when the going demands it. The insight into his thought processes, as he tracks the letter’s writer, is as enjoyable as the plot. Brady’s mind works in a different way and he’s the counterbalance to Hodge’s morality – outwardly so ordinary that he’s forgettable, but inwardly as dark as anyone King has created.
I’ve heard people say that they ‘prefer classic King’ but I have to say that I really like the way that his writing has evolved. I recently re-read The Shining and found it less satisfying (in terms of writing style) than his later work.
It’s true, this is less horror than we’re used to with King’s earlier works; there’s nothing supernatural here – just the perverse nature of the human race. But this book is no poorer for that. There are some enjoyable name-checks of King’s other work to look out for along the way, too.
This is yet another great book from Stephen King. Thoroughly enjoyable, it’s definitely one that you won’t want to put down until you’re done – and when you are, you’ll wish it wasn’t over.