Stephen King: Mr. Mercedes (2014)
Hi! This is a review that I've been dreading, simply because I finished reading the book over a month ago and...I don't know why I do this to myself. I mean, I know how it got to be this long since I've finished, but damn.
I've had this post saved at "Hi!" since...Thursday, I think. I didn't even know how to continue it, so I finally settled on just being honest, haha.
I have a love/like relationship with books by Stephen King. Some of his books fascinated and terrified me - such as my all-time favorite Duma Key and his more recent Joyland. Others didn't grasp my attention quite as much - such as Christine and Rose Madder. Regardless, whenever King has a new release, I always check out the book's promotional bite, curious to see what he's managed to come up with next and whether or not it's something I might enjoy reading. When it came to Mr. Mercedes, I knew in an instant that King wrote a book I would not just enjoy, but enjoy thoroughly.
Oh, I won't deny it: it's fun figuring out who the mastermind murderer is. I would know the fun in murder mysteries - Agatha Christie is one of my top favorite authors. But when a book's bite instantly introduces the murderer by name, and that book's author is Stephen King, well, you simply can't go wrong.
Mr. Mercedes is Stephen King's most recent novel, published by Scribner on June 3, 2014. Interestingly enough, that's one day less than a year after the release of the aforementioned Joyland. King must stick to a schedule. And imagine: if my hunch is correct, then that means a new King book every time my birthday month comes around!
The book starts with the story's triggering event: a man joining many others, at dawn, on line for a job fair, waiting for the fair's opening hour to arrive when suddenly a stolen Mercedes plows right through - and over - the crowd, killing and injuring those in its path. Fast forward some months later: retired Detective Kermit William Hodges receives a letter from Mr. Mercedes himself, boasting about his ability to commit a massacre so awful yet so brilliant that Detective Hodges had to retire with the case still open. The result? A story whose third-person perspective switches back and forth between Detective Hodges and Brady Hartfield (a.k.a. Mr. Mercedes) as Hartfield works towards a massacre even greater than his run with the Mercedes, and Hodges tries to close the case once and for all.
While they're both hard at work, they exchange words every now and then through the strictly anonymous chat room called Under Debbie's Blue Umbrella (which you can log into here with the passwords 'kermitfrog19' and 'otrelaw19'), where Hodges is known as kermitfrog19 and Hartfield is known as merckill.
As usual, I don't want to summarize the plot. As usual, I want to try and avoid spoiling the story for you. I have points about this book that I love, and those that I felt were weak considering King's achievements in the world of writing. I'll be organizing my review through both sides of the coin respectively, and to the best of my ability since it's been over a month and nearly three other books since I've finished this one.
Why not start with the positives first? Let's get the obvious out of the way: King is a master narrator, period. His narration - regardless of the perspective - always manages to make the story not only feel real, but have an entrancing quality to it. The story flows naturally while pulling you along with a fierce undercurrent of "what's going to happen next?" Hand-in-hand with King's superb narration is his gift for characterization. This specifically is why I was thrilled when I read the book's synopsis and saw that we, the readers, would be following not only the book's hero, but its villain, too. I wanted to see the mind of the killer up-close, especially because I knew King would create someone unique and - as I said before - real.
King is known for his horror stories, but horror can branch off into many forms: horror in the form of gore, horror in the form of bone-chilling danger, and horror in the form of disturbance, to name those that come to mind with this book. When we follow and learn about Brady Hartfield, the third of the aforementioned forms is most apparent. His rationalization towards murder, his demeaning thoughts towards people he acts completely normal upfront with, his feelings towards his mother - all these aspects about him are unsettling, uncomfortable, disturbing.
Speaking of Brady's mother, horror in both its form of disturbance and its form of gore exists in what happens to her. Like I said before, I don't want to spoil anything, so it's hard to go into detail regarding this. What I will say, though, is that King vividly describes the scene - all up to the final thump - and creates a situation that is 100% possible and, therefore, all the more frightening. Which brings me to another positive about this book!
This is, I honestly believe, the first book I've read of King's that is firmly planted in reality. Duma Key had the spirit locked within the figurine, Christine had the possessed car, Joyland had the ghost of Linda Gray, and Rose Madder had the alternate reality that existed within Rose's painting. Every other book of his that I own and can currently think of - The Shining, Carrie, Pet Sematary, The Green Mile - all had an aspect of fantasy incorporated into their stories. There definitely exists horror in the unknown, but there are very realistic situations - a murderer running rampant, abduction and rape, and war, to name a few that instantly come to mind - that have an even more chilling horror due to the fact that yes, these things can actually happen at any time. You don't have to believe in anything for them to exist. Mr. Mercedes is a story that is completely plausible.
With that being said, I think this is a good point to transition into this book's weaknesses. As terrifying as the plot in this book is due to its plausibility, I never really got much of that last form of horror - the horror of being in danger. The main "good guy" in the book is Detective Hodges, with followup "good guys" being Jerome, Janey, and Holly. Even when a dangerous situation was materializing for one of these characters, I felt more a sense of hope that nothing bad would happen to them as opposed to feeling frightened for them.
Then there was the way one of these dangerous situations turned out. I won't say which characters were involved besides Hodges, but there is a bomb scene where Hartfield intends on killing Hodges and a turn of events happens, removing Hodges from the anticipated danger and causing an unexpected outcome - for Hartfield, anyway. For me, the outcome was totally predictable and felt like a cop-out on King's part. I knew Hodges wasn't going to die - he couldn't - and the predictability of that was fine, but I was hoping that King would have dealt with it in a less predictable way.
One last weakness in the book, for me, was the character of Holly. Holly, a relative of the late Olivia Trelawney, is a nervous girl who takes medicine for her emotional illness. I did not realize, when she was introduced in the latter half of the book, that she would become one of the book's focal characters. Don't get me wrong - that's perfectly fine. What I didn't find interesting was how she, in a tightly contained manner, became crucial to the story's solution. If it were not for her, Hartfield would have managed to pull off his final stunt and wipe out thousands, himself included. To put it simply, Holly is a character with a reservoir of knowledge unique to her mind and her mind only (hence why I referred to her role as being "tightly contained") - a reservoir from which the solution to the problem is ultimately achieved. As such, said solution is one that essentially could not have possibly been figured out by Hodges or Jerome, or any person that is not "gifted."
In other words, it feels as though Holly was given her intellectual "gift" - introduced into the story, even - for the sole purpose of stopping Hartfield.
My comments regarding Holly's character are ones that I'm sure a lot of people will disagree with me on, and that's fine. As I was writing my explanation above, I tried playing devil's advocate against myself and argued why Holly's role could be a welcomed twist to the plot. I mean, it's not like we didn't know where Hartfield was, or what he planned to do. Hodges, Jerome, and Holly were the ones facing the predicament. I guess I would have liked to see...a more elaborate process to reach the solution.
Oh, before I summarize my thoughts, I want to clumsily (and briefly) leave you with one more positive I found in this book: the ending. It was a weird ending that I just kind of made sense of today. Haha.
So, overall, I really enjoyed Stephen King's Mr. Mercedes. King's writing was excellent as always, his characters were fleshed out thoroughly, he projected horror in a variety of ways, and he presented us with a story that could totally occur outside of the world of fiction. Even though I found some weak points in the book, I still think it's one of the stronger stories of the smaller selection I've read from King thus far.
When I did some research for this review, I actually discovered something that was announced days after the book's publication: that Mr. Mercedes is the first of an anticipated trilogy. That's actually why I said I just made sense of the ending today - it didn't feel like a completely closed ending, but clearly that wasn't intended. Anyway, I'm pretty excited about this information, as far away as the second installment's potential publication date is (of course we're looking at 2015). Always looking towards the future or back in the past, never grounded in the present...
Thanks for stopping by! Enjoy the rest of your weekend, and 'til next time. ('<>')>