Stephen King’s latest, Mr. Mercedes, just left my bedside table. And it was a short stay. Like most of King’s novels, this one was hard to put down. King has a brilliant way of writing words that read like oxygen, and nitrogen and carbon dioxide enter the body. In and out they go, without a flinch, without a pause. It is, for me, the ease of his prose that has fueled the long-term affair I’ve had with King. His latest, Mr. Mercedes, only ups the ante.
The subject matter, an evil serial killer, is hardly the comfort food for the soul that you might think might stoke a reader’s fire. But, King’s ability to delve into the mind of the killer, and not make you scream and shiver and throw the book across the room is tribute to his gift.
As far as twist and turn, can’t figure out who did it mystery goes, there is really no “mystery” here. By page forty (in a 400+ page book), we know who the crazy, maniacal killer is: Brady Hartsfield. Despite Hartsfield’s protestations, we know he will strike again, and often we know exactly how he intends to do it. But, King manages, nevertheless, to keep us on edge throughout, weaving the trajectories of his main characters, Hartsfield and Det. Ret. Bill Hodges, with nary a wasted word or phrase.
We discover early on that Brady has carried out a sick and twisted attack on people waiting in line at an early morning job fair, using a stolen Mercedes. The detectives on the case (including then Det. Hodges) easily trace that Mercedes to Olivia Trelawney, a rich, neurotic widow who is far more concerned about when her car will be returned to her than the countless victims mowed down by her 12-cylinder killing machine. Describing the scene, King deftly gives a shout-out to himself, conjuring up visions of the murderous Plymouth from Christine (likewise, he later calls out Pennywise from It). To be sure, the reader will benefit from having read King before, if nothing not for his ability to convey yet another a kick-ass story. But if this is your first King book, fear not. Read on, and then pick up more, starting maybe with Doctor Sleep, the sort-of sequel to The Shining.
Anyway, while investigating Mr. Mercedes, the detectives go hard at Mrs. Trelawney, suggesting that her negligence in leaving her car unlocked, with the keys in it, at the very least “enabled” Mr. Mercedes to perpetrate his heinous crime. We later learn that Hartsfield has manipulated the vulnerable Trelawney into feeling very guilty about his crime, leading to her eventual suicide, a feat he attempts to repeat with the now retired, and very bored, Det. Ret. Hodges. But Hodges doesn’t respond the way that Hartsfield thinks he will. He goes full-on rogue, Rambo in an effort to take him down, and enlists some unlikely allies, Jerome, a brilliantly savvy and droll high school student, Janey Trelawney’s sexy, recently-divorced sister, and Holly, Trelawney’s a painfully neurotic cousin who happens to be a computer savant.
King manages to build suspense even though we are pretty much privy to everything that Hartsfield intends to do. King is more than willing to “off” major characters (much to my chagrin) but he never invents plot twists or payoffs. His writing is unwavering in what feels true to what these characters would do or think.
I’ve never met a serial killer, but King makes me feel as if I had after reading this book and I’m not really sure whether that is good or bad. But, it seems authentic, and is entirely addictive.
Pick up Mr. Mercedes, but not if you have a deadline or have “chos for hos” as Jerome would say. You won’t get anything much done until you’ve followed Hartsfield, Hodges and crew to the bitter end. Happy Reading!