My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Recently retired detective Hodges has left the force with a few open cases and has been living deep in depression, daily contemplating suicide, for months. When one of his old, unsolved cases, Mr Mercedes who ran over people standing in line at a job fair, sends Bill Hodges a letter, Hodges is awakened by his bleak and dismal routine and finds meaning in his life again. Even though he is retired and, as a result, not supposed to work on cases anymore, he simply cannot help himself falling into a chase between cat and mouse. The question is who is the cat and who the mouse, and as Hodges comes closer and closer to finding Mr Mercedes, catching his soon becomes not only necessary but crucial. He is about to strike again.
In his thriller novel Mr Mercedes, Stephen King once again plays with a theme that holds a fundamental role amongst his works for decades: good vs evil. As the title suggests, the villain of the story is knows as Mr Mercedes who earned this nickname due to a murderous attack that took place during the early hours of the dawn costing eight people their lives. Mr Mercedes used an elegantly fancy and iconic Mercedes-Benz and literally drove straight towards the people who were standing in line for hours to get a spot at the job fair. The car belongs to a middle-aged woman named Olivia Trelawney who insists that she did not forget the keys in the ignition even though it is clear that the vehicle was not broken into. Though she seems sure there is no wrong-doing on her part, she is soon found dead after committing suicide. This is not a who-did-it type of story, rather the reader quickly becomes familiar with Mr Mercedes. His name is Brady Hartsfield and he is a deeply disturbed 28-year-old computer savvy man who lives with his alcoholic mother and works two jobs, in one of which he is an ice cream man. The details of Brady’s life are for Mr King to describe, but he presents, in no uncertain terms, an obsessive and sociopathic individual.
Every religion lies. Every moral precept is a delusion. Even the stars are a mirage. The truth is darkness, and the only thing that matters is making a statement before one enters it. Cutting the skin of the world and leaving a scar. That’s all history is, after all: scar tissue.
Bill Hodges is introduced as a character picked from the “White Male Retired Detectives for Thrillers” bag. He is a 60-plus-year-old, overweight man who has lost the meaning of life following his retirement from the force. His daily routine involves him eating crappy food, watching shitty TV and contemplatively “play” with his revolver. In fact, sometimes he actually places it in his mouth, attempting to see how it feels to have a gun ready to offer a fatal shot. Clearly Hodges is quite unhappy with his life as a retiree (where have we seen that again?) and so it comes as no surprise when, upon receiving a letter from Mr Mercedes he wakes up from his dismal stupor into an entirely new chapter. Brady sent Hodges the letter in an attempt to drive the old ret. det. to off himself and, ironically, achieving the very opposite result.
Life is a crap carnival with shit prizes.
As much as this may sound like a promising setting and an interesting beginning to a novel, Stephen King simply proves once more unable to move past stereotypical storylines and second-handed characters. Hodges does not waste time and quickly becomes involves in his own private investigation to bring Mr Mercedes to justice. In his pursuit, he involves a young lad who mows his loan and enjoys talking in the Southern slave manner often calling Hodges “massa”. Jerome does not only have a talent for black jokes but he is also able to offer important insights into the case, quickly earning the spot of Hodges’ sidekick. After Hodges visits Trelawney’s sister to inquire about the stolen Mercedes, he becomes enamoured by Janey’s beauty and calm but fierce demeanour and they soon become lovers. The final wheel working with Hodges to catch the Mercedes killer is Janey’s cousin, Holly, a 45-year-old woman suffering from severe anxiety and possibly psychosis.
Rich people can be generous, even the ones with bloodcurdling political views can be generous, but most believe in generosity on their own terms, and underneath (not so deep, either), they’re always afraid someone is going to steal their presents and eat their birthday cake.
Now, after attempting my fourth Steven King novel – a small number compared to the bulk of his published works – I find myself utterly confused by the man, the author, the horror idol, Mr King. One would expect that with a name and reputation such as his, each of his works is a masterpiece or, at the very least, offering a unique reading experience and showcasing writing craftsmanship at its best. His books become instant bestsellers and I am always surprised to discover movies that I didn’t know as based to his novels. It seems only fair to wonder, what’s the big deal with this man? He not only writes – rather than creates – characters that are practically the definitions of clichés, he doesn’t even make a distinction anymore between his own characters. After reading Under the Dome, one can clearly see Junior in Brady and Julia in Janey. For readers who haven’t read much thriller fiction like myself, overchewed plot and characters may not be a huge issue. Mr Mercedes is not a badly written novel as a very basic introduction as to what you would expect to read from this genre. But it never goes beyond that.
How cruel would a supreme being have to be to make a world as fucked-up as this one?
The setting differs from the classic Kingian paranormal horrors that lurk under his pen. While the story unfolds in 2009, the noir vibe is present in undertones of grey. The story is told in interchanging perspectives of the cat and the mouse giving the reader a chance to see the story through the eyes of a lunatic murderer and a well-meaning, previously catatonic and newly energised ex-cop. Mr Mercedes is the first book in the Bill Hodges trilogy which continues with Finder Keepers. The book probably needs no recommendation to hardcore Stephen King fans but I would expect fans of the genre to leave the book disappointed or at least mildly entertained.
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