TITLE: Mr. Mercedes
AUTHOR: Stephen King
BLURB: The stolen Mercedes emerges from the pre-dawn fog and ploughs through a crowd of men and women on line for a job fair in a distressed American city. Then the lone driver backs up, charges again, and speeds off, leaving eight dead and more wounded. The case goes unsolved and ex-cop Bill Hodges is out of hope when he gets a letter from a man who loved the feel of death under the Mercedes’s wheels…
Brady Hartsfield wants that rush again, but this time he’s going big, with an attack that would take down thousands—unless Hodges and two new unusual allies he picks up along the way can throw a wrench in Hartsfield’s diabolical plans.
I have to be upfront with you and admit I decided to post this review following a terrorist attack in London yesterday. 7 people were killed, 48 injured and 21 are critical. This is just the latest in a line of attacks where a vehicle was driven into a crowd of innocent people in an effort to kill, maim and terrorise. It has been reported that King got the idea for the starting point of this novel from a newspaper article in the US about a woman driving her car into a McDonald’s restaurant. In the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing, he reportedly said the plot was “too creepily close for comfort”. Since the publication of Mr Mercedes automobiles have become lethal weapons to be used like aeroplanes were in 9/11. I’m in no way drawing any line between the plot of Mr Mecedes and the subsequent terrorist attacks, but if it can be dreamt up in fiction it can be brought to life through the minds of madmen. This review is a small acknowledgement on my part that evil is real and lives among us. Creepily close for comfort indeed.
Stephen King said this was his first hard-boiled detective book and indeed it is. The plot makes it a page turner and the characters are as real as any King characters have ever been, and that’s about as life-like as they get. His retired detective (to be played on TV by Irish actor Brendan Gleeson), complete with middle-aged health problems, is sufficiently weather-worn and cantankerous to take his place in the detectives’ hall of fame with any of the greats.
The author’s ability to place the fantastic inside an ordinary context makes the journey through this story like watching a 9 o’clock news item unfold before your very eyes and with your neighbours as extras. The mental gymnastics the characters perform as the story unfolds is like eavesdropping on the mental conversations of both the protagonist and the antagonist and sometimes at the same time. Given the complexity of the characters and the plot, that can become very unnerving, no matter which head you’re currently occupying. There are no throw-away characters either, there never are in a King novel, and every one is carved from a different piece of stone. His ability to force the reader to care about his characters has got to be one of the best-selling authors secret ingredients.
A hard-boiled detective story it is indeed, but whether he knows it or not King makes the mind of the psychopathic killer so accessible it still makes you squirm just as much as any of his horror masterpieces.