When I first began to read Stephen King, I found his books to be excellent science fiction, “The Dead Zone”, “The Stand”, and the early books in “The Dark Tower” series, in particular. However, after awhile, for me, many of his books simply turned into sadistic tales of horror, and I stopped reading his novels. The raw pain that the author reveled in did not interest me. Because this was touted as a good detective novel, different than the genre he now ordinarily prefers, when a member in my book group recommended it, I decided to read it. I had recently read “11/22/63”, and I enjoyed it. In this book, however, I was very disappointed, although I will say that he still has an ample ability to create tension, even when the story is not very credible.
Yes, it is a detective novel. But the bigger yes is that it is also a sadistic and cruel story, not perhaps a full fledged horror story, but a story about horrible behavior, behavior that no one should even be thinking about or encouraging. The language and sex used to tell the story is low class and crude. So, beware if you pick up this book; it is not a simple detective novel, it is a hybrid, and I think it would have been better in a pure form of one or the other, detective mystery or horror novel.
At a job fair, the driver of a stolen Mercedes (the actual owner of the stolen car, Mrs. Olivia Trelawney, turns out to be not too tightly wound), deliberately plows into a crowd, over and over, brutally murdering some and injuring others. As the book continues, the murderer, now dubbed “Mr. Mercedes”, continues to taunt the owner of the stolen car. Not satisfied with simply having wantonly murdered his innocent victims, he also wants to manipulate his first victim, the owner of the car, into committing suicide. The public at large has blamed her for the murders because they believe she left her key in the car, absentmindedly, thereby enabling the murderer to steal it and commit his heinous act. She is, therefore, easy prey for him. After she does kill herself, her sister, Janelle Patterson, inherits her small fortune. She divorces her unpleasant husband and moves into Olivia’s condo where she pursues an investigation into her sister’s suicide. She does not believe her sister would have ended her life, unless manipulated and encouraged to do so, and she is determined to find out who encouraged her.
Meanwhile, the job fair murders have remained unsolved. After a year passes, the retired cop who handled the original investigation receives a letter from “Mr. Mercedes. In the letter, the murderer makes a joke of his awful crime, and taunting K. (Kermit) William Hodges, he encourages him to also end it all. He has been watching Hodges and knows that he has been contemplating suicide. However, instead of inspiring him to take his own life, the letter has the reverse effect; it inspires Hodges to go on living. Thus begins a deadly game of cat and mouse as Mrs. Trelawney’s sister, Janey, and Hodges team up to find the murderer.
Hodges is re-energized. He does not pass the letter on to his former partner in the police department, choosing instead to mull it over. He thinks, does he want to give this mass murderer the publicity he seems to be seeking, even though he avowed in his letter that he had no desire to murder anyone else or at least commit any more mass murders, or does he want to see how it would pan out if he handled it on his own, without informing anyone else. He could get into a lot of trouble for withholding evidence, but he decides to keep it secret, regardless of the consequences, which could and do turn deadly, while he allows his pride and his ego to interfere with his common sense.
Hodges and Mr. Mercedes, (Brady Hartfield), begin to play a deadly game which eventually enrages the “perk”. Brady is a cold-blooded murderer who blames every negative aspect of his life on someone else. His relationship with his mother is unhealthy, to say the least. There are some pretty nasty secrets in his past. He accepts no responsibility for his actions or their effects on others. Angry, he begins to busy himself by thinking up diabolical plans to hurt Hodges for insulting him. He is bent on revenge. He believes Hodges has only one close attachment and that is to a young, talented, very bright 17 year old African American, Jerome, who does chores for him. Brady is determined to try to hurt Hodges by hurting Jerome’s family. He plans to poison their beloved dog, but the plan goes awry, and Brady truly goes off the deep end, compounding one error after another. Hodges begins to actively search for Brady with the help of Janey, Jerome, and later on, Janey’s cousin Holly who lives on Lexapro in order to survive an overbearing mother and her own highly arrested emotional development. How successful they all are is up to the reader to determine. I found the brutal crimes in the novel, real or contemplated, difficult to read about. The ramblings of Mr. Mercedes were very disturbing. He enjoyed taunting people, enjoyed their suffering.
The plot becomes a bit convoluted, and as it develops it also becomes contrived with the actions and developments becoming far too coincidental. I thought the dialogue was hackneyed, overly filled with filthy language and gross sexual suggestion. The “Ret. Det.” as Mr. Mercedes calls Hodges, (Retired Detective), behaves unprofessionally and irresponsibly. The book certainly was not written to be an example of good behavior, although, in the end, there seems to be a message about how to treat one another, regardless of stature, sophistication or disability, regardless of whether someone is emotionally, physically or mentally challenged. There is a message about the dangers of prejudging someone or some situation. Keeping an open, compassionate mind is the better course to follow.
The conclusion seemed a bit too pat, as if the author wanted to apologize for his previous sadistic tale and give it some righteousness in the end, but he also set it up for his sequel. I am sure fans of Mr. King will eagerly await the sequel. Both Hodges and Mr. Mercedes eventually wreak havoc which must be resolved. Many of the characters were pretty loose cannons. Many seemed outright disturbed. The reader is left wondering if a severely injured and mentally disturbed Mr. Mercedes will awaken and go on to commit further atrocities or will he end up like his brother Frankie? They will also wonder how the lives of the ultimate heroes, Holly and Jerome, will develop.