Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Mr. Mercedes: King Goes Crime

Stephen King's new crime thriller (I guess that's the appropriate genre — it's often horrific, but it's definitely not horror) Mr Mercedes is certainly entertaining, a novel you can plow through (maybe a poor choice of words) in just a few sittings. But it also sort of feels like the kind of novel King can crank out in his sleep. There isn't a tremendous amount of depth or unexpected drama here — you know who the killer is from the opening pages — and so the only question is whether or hero will be able to stop said killer from committing his heinous encore act.

To fill in the details: The killer is a dude named Brady Hartfield, a late-20s fellow who works at an electronics store and moolights as an ice cream truck driver (you'll never trust your ice cream truck driver again after reading this novel). Brady lives with his drunk mother, with whom he has a massively inappropriate relationship. Brady is the eponymous Mr. Mercedes, the title psychopath who mauled down and killed eight people waiting in line at a job fair in a stolen Mercedes Benz.

Our hero is Bill Hodges, a former detective who had failed to solve the Mr. Mercedes crime before fading into retirement. But Brady reels him back into the case in the opening pages. Brady sends him a letter, chiding him about the crime, and endeavoring to guilt poor Bill into committing suicide. Brady had already been successful in this regard with the rich woman from whom he stole the Mercedes. She killed herself a few months prior after he'd needled her as well. Evidently, this sort of thing is a sadistic power trip for him.

But of course, Brady's best laid plans go awry, and he only succeeds in re-motivating Bill to solve the case. So together with a computer-whiz teenage neighbor Jerome, a slightly off woman named Holly, and a saucy rich minx named Janelle Patterson (who is the sister of the Mercedes owner), Bill races against time stop Mr. Mercedes from committing more mass murder.

At least one part of the novel struck me as extremely odd. One of the lessons Bill learns as he continues to run down leads, is that you shouldn't let your personal feelings about people influence the weight of their evidence. He and his partner had been annoyed with the whiny rich lady who owned the Mercedes, so they didn't believe her when she said she didn't know how the killer was able to steal her car without breaking in, and that caused them to look past what might have broken the case. Later, Bill is interrogating a neighbor, and amid a rant about aliens, she tells him she doesn't trust the neighborhood ice cream man. Bill writes her off as crazy, so he puts no stuck in what she says. If only he'd istened to her! But here's the problem: King often describes Bill as a hugely successful detective with a long, storied career of solving crime. If that's true, wouldn't this have been a lesson Bill learned many, many cases prior. This may sound like nit-picking, but this lesson is sort of one of the hinges of the novel. So it bugged me.

Overall, though, this is a good, fun summer read — not quite on par with King's more popular novels or my favorite novels of his (Duma Key, 11/22/63, The Stand, eg), but not terrible either. I'd give it three out of five stars.

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