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Mr. Mercedes: A Novel (The Bill Hodges Trilogy) Hardcover – June 3, 2014
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King’s interest in crime fiction was evident from his work for the Hard Case Crime imprint—The Colorado Kid (2005) and Joyland (2013)—but this is the most straight-up mystery-thriller of his career. Retired Detective Bill Hodges is overweight, directionless, and toying with the idea of ending it all when he receives a jeering letter from the Mercedes Killer, who ran down 23 people with a stolen car but evaded Hodges’ capture. With the help of a 17-year-old neighbor and one victim’s sister (who, in proper gumshoe style, Hodges quickly beds), Hodges begins to play cat-and-mouse with the killer through a chat site called Under Debbie’s Blue Umbrella. Hodges’ POV alternates with that of the troubled murderer, a Norman Bates–like ice-cream-truck driver named Brady Hartfield. Both Hodges and Hartfield make mistakes, big ones, leaving this a compelling, small-scale slugfest that plays out in cheery suburban settings. This exists outside of the usual Kingverse (Pennywise the Clown is referred to as fictive); add that to the atypical present-tense prose, and this feels pretty darn fresh. Big, smashing climax, too. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: No need to rev the engine here; this baby will rocket itself out of libraries with a loud squeal of the tires. --Daniel Kraus
"Pays off exuberantly . . . Surprising and invigorating." (The New York Times)
"Classic Stephen King. Creepy, yet realistic characters that get under your skin and stay there, a compelling story that twists and turns at breakneck speed, and delightful prose that, once again, proves that one of America’s greatest natural storytellers is also one of its finest writers." (Associated Press)
"On one level, Mr. Mercedes is an expertly crafted example of the classic race-against-the-clock thriller. On another, it is a novel of depth and character enriched throughout by the grace notes King provides in such seemingly effortless profusion. It is a rich, resonant, exceptionally readable accomplishment by a man who can write in whatever genre he chooses." (Washington Post)
“Think of Mr. Mercedes as an AC/DC song: uncluttered, chugging with momentum, and a lot harder to pull off than it looks. . . . King has written a hot rod of a novel,perfect for a few summer days at the pool. Mercedes-Benz commands drivers to demand ‘the best or nothing.’ In pop-fiction terms, that motto still applies to Stephen King, too. With apologies to AC/DC, the highway to hell never felt so fun.” (Christian Science Monitor)
“A taut, suspenseful race-against-time book . . . [King is] in reliably fine form.” (The New York Times)
"A taut, calibrated thriller . . . The majority of the book is merciless and unforgiving, and the scariest thing about it is how plausible the whole scenario is." (Miami Herald)
“The nerve-shredding denouement is vintage King—a pulse-pounding race against time . . .” (Fort Worth Star-Telegram)
“A full-throttle sprint to the finish; the last 80 pages cannot be doled out over multiple reading sessions. You'll have to swallow them all in a single gulp.” (Sarasota Herald Tribune)
“A literary Van de Graaff generator: tightly paced and parsed with dynamic dialogue and traumatic twists.” (Columbus Dispatch)
“An oh-so-dark mystery that never shuts the door on love, loss and, possibly, redemption.” (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
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The characters are mostly fully fleshed out, with the unfortunate exception of one female character who I felt had a lot of quirks, but didn't feel completely real. Hopefully King will work on that character in the next book of this planned trilogy, due out next year. I'm interested to see where King takes this series. With a few exceptions, he doesn't write a lot of sequels.
The plotting and pacing of this book is excellent. King seems to set it up one way, then constantly pulls the rug out from under the reader. I loved the journey, though the ending felt a little limited, with one character getting sidelined before the big finale. I don't think this is a 5 star book, mainly because it feels too much like a standard thriller (a really well done one, but nothing that will make me forget about King's other stellar work). I highly recommend it to all fans of Stephen King and/or detective thrillers.
King hooks us with these two likable characters, Augie Odenkirk and Janice Cray, who are both standing in the rain waiting for a job fair to open. A thousand people are to be hired and they're both desperate for work. Janice is so desperate she's brought her baby with her and it needs to be changed and fed. Augie loans her his sleeping bag. Just when she's all set, a Mercedes plows into the crowd. We're hoping Augie, our hero, and Janice and her baby aren't hurt, but that rat King won't let us have our way. So then who's this story about? King is a lot like John Sandford in that he lets you follow the killer throughout the book. This killer is a computer repairman, part-time ice cream salesman (That's how he gets to know the real hero of the book, a retired cop, named Bill Hodges, who's thinking of eating his father's hand gun). Brady Hartfield has seen him through the window. and he intuitively knows that's what Bill is doing. So he writes Bill a letter, signing it Mr. Mercedes. (BTW, that's a flaw in the book. Newspapers don't give serial murderers nicknames anymore like the Zodiac killer or Son of Sam. That's what they want, publicity. If they do, they'll hear from the police.) Brady's new target is Bill Hodges, and he wants to drive him to suicide, just as he's done with the owner of the Mercedes.
Brady Hartsfield is one sick puppy. He's got an Oedipus complex for one thing. He still lives with his mother, and he's got a man cave in the basement where he torments his future victims via the dark Internet. He's trying to get Bill to sign on to a site called “Debbie's Blue Umbrella”, but actually he's done Bill a favor; Bill now has a reason to live besides watching Judge Judy on TV: to track down this monster before he hurts somebody else.
Often divorced Bill also meets the owner of the Mercedes's sister, Janey. Mr. Mercedes has sent her sister a letter similar to the one Bill received. Bill is 62; Janey is 44 and beautiful. For some reason, she likes him, despite the age disparity. She hasn't had much luck with men, and Bill is a very nice man. She wants in on the search for the killer. So does Jerome, Bill's lawn boy, who also happens to be an all-American boy bent on being accepted at an Ivy league school. But he likes to pretend he's a field hand around Bill as he's an African-American. He's also adept at computers, and he helps Bill check out “Debbie's Blue Umbrella.” The last member of the group is Holly, whose mother was Mercedes owner Olivia Trelawney's sister. Holly ia forty-four years old but her mother, along with other bullies, has driven her to bat city She's got more ticks than a Rocky Mountain forest, but she's also computer literate, and she's brave and smart, despite her condition.
This book will keep you on the edge of your chair until the climax is over, and you'll keep reading to find out what happened to everybody after that. It even ends with a cliffhanger of sorts. Usually that's a no-no for me, but I would have read the next King mystery anyway.
The main characters are pretty cool, but personal taste leads me to grimace a bit at another Ice Box female lead. I feel like the thing that really kept me motivated to read was the HOPE that something might happen to the villain on the next chapter to erase his wicked existence. It was very compelling! Recommended for anyone who wants a scare but is trying to find a fresh way to get it.