End of Watch, Stephen King, author; Will Patton, narrator
This book is quintessential King. He marries the bizarre with the ordinary, revenge with retribution, horror with wonder, credibility with implausibility, reality with fantasy, nightmares with dreams, wickedness with goodness, and all the while he keeps you on the edge of your seat captivated by this creative novel. While you may not like the content, and it often veers off into brutally descriptive, savage detail, it is tightly knit, fast paced and gripping. Moments of humor, with witty comments, sometimes lighten the steadier tension created by King.
This book is the third and final novel in a series which began with “The Mercedes Man” and was followed by “Finders Keepers”. In “End of Watch”, some of the same major characters are brought to life. Bill Hodges is the elderly retired cop, now private investigator, working with Holly Gibney in their firm called Finders Keepers. Jerome Robinson is a young black man, exceptionally likeable for his compassion, who attends Harvard University. He and computers are well acquainted. Holly is open and honest to a fault because of an emotional problem. She is a computer genius. She and Jerome are good buddies. Kermit William Hodges starts out seeming like a curmudgeon, but he is really a teddy bear who has a very positive influence on both Holly and Jerome. The three care deeply for each other and have a long history, in the previous books, which binds them. When the book ends, the reader may wonder if Holly will soon be the star of her own future series of novels.
In this book, Brady Hartsfield, the killer from the first book in the series, is in the Kiner Memorial Hospital in their Brain Injury Clinic, supposedly languishing away from a serious brain injury inflicted upon him by Holly Gibney when she foiled his attempt to blow up a packed concert hall. He is under the care of a neurologist, Dr. Felix Babineau. In secret, Dr. Babineau has been using an experimental drug on Brady, although he pretends he is only administering vitamins to him. Brady has made some minimal improvement, physically and mentally. When strange things begin to happen in his hospital room with things seemingly moving about on their own, the hospital staff becomes spooked. Then some hospital employees begin to act strangely as well, and suddenly, murders and suicides start piling up.
Hodges used to visit Brady in the hospital. He had no love for this man and was happy to see him suffering. He and Holly were called to the scene of what is supposed to be a murder/suicide. It is very suspicious, however. One of the dead was a paralyzed victim of Brady’s first horrific attempted murders at the City Center Job Fair. He used a Mercedes to brutally run down, severely injure and murder innocent people waiting on line to get inside. Isabelle Jaynes does not want him involved. She is the police officer who works with his former partner, Pete Huntley. Izzy is more interested in her career than in getting at the truth, but soon, Pete begins to feed Holly and Bill information secretly. When they are at the crime scene, Holly discovers the Zappit and surreptitiously removes it. Holly is now very skeptical about the possibility of this being an ordinary murder/suicide, and so is Bill. Soon, there are other suicide victims who have Zappits. When Barbara Robinson, Jerome’s sister, becomes involved in these bizarre happenings after an attempted suicide, he returns home to help Holly and Hodges. As the story develops, it turns out that a retro computer game called The Zappit Commander has resurfaced in spite of the fact that it was taken off the market because it had a mildly hypnotic effect on some users. One of the games on this gadget, “the fishing hole”, seems to have a strange effect on the users.
Hartsfield, seems to have an unusual, newly developed and enhanced brain function, perhaps due to Babineau’s experiments or perhaps due to the injury. Now he has devised a diabolical plan to hurt as many of the would-be attendees to that cancelled concert by giving away the Zappits. Somehow, he has reprogrammed them, with the help of a woman who once worked with him. How he is able to accomplish this will astonish most readers.
The reader knows that Brady is a sick puppy, and there seems to be no end to his sadistic need. Brady is not likeable. The constant over the top barbarism is very disturbing, yet the story remains very compelling. I can’t even imagine how King thinks up such awful things, but I know that his fans will love this series. I liked former Detective Hodges, a man of courage and strong convictions who displayed heart in spite of his seemingly coarse crust and the difficult future road he will be forced to travel. I loved Holly because of what seems like her total lack of guile coupled with genius. Her penchant for total honesty is heartwarming. Then there is Jerome, who isn’t a major part of this story, but he is a young black man possessing all the values necessary to make him successful in life. He attends Harvard University and does construction work when he is not studying and going to classes. He is upwardly mobile but acutely aware of the who he is and the problems of society. He adds humor and tenderness which is a quality he displays often, especially, with Holly.
King injects moments from each of the two previous books into this novel so that the reader is never at a loss to understand the story as it relates to the past. Although it gets repetitive, at times, it is always tense and gripping. Perhaps, when completed, one will wonder as I did, if Dr. Babineau experimented on Brady or Brady experimented on him? How could Brady have realistically accomplished what he did? Was the ending satisfying? Did it signify another series coming?I bet a lot of readers and fans will be eagerly awaiting the next novel that possibly features Holly and Jerome working together with Pete Huntley.