Book of the Week: Mr. Mercedes


This was my first Stephen King experience. I know that is a cardinal sin for a New Englander but I have never had a strong draw to horror stories. That was my first lesson. Most Stephen King novels aren’t horror, I know, I was surprised too. After consulting my local King expert I found out that 1) I should have started with an earlier novel to get a feel for his writing and 2) Most of his horror was earlier in his career.

Mr.Mercedes is a crime novel with a twist. Very similar to many private investigator novels I have read. Except half the novel was from the perspective of Brady, the killer. Although not totally unheard of it is an interesting choice to give the reader an advantage over the investigator. Although it takes away from the anxiety of the chase it also feeds into the taboo, disturbed nature I expected from King.

Overall this book was a disappointment. I could take it or leave it, it did not make an impression, and will certainly be a book I forget about. I honestly could have done without reading it. It didn’t provide much intrigue and there were writing choices that bothered me enough to draw me out of the story. It was a medium read. Not terrible and not exceptional. A fine filler read if you enjoy crime novels.

Bill is a retired detective who is having a hard go of civilian life. He hasn’t adjusted very well to having nothing to do. When we first meet him, Bill is waiting for the right time to kill himself. That changes when he receives a letter that appears to be from one of the criminals that evaded him during his career. A perp who killed eight people by plowing a Mercedes into a crowd. This was one of the few cases left unsolved when he retired. Bill starts down the path of interacting with the killer outside of law enforcement in order to finally catch the perp.

The book represents Bill as a well-awarded detective, the best in his field. Which makes it hard to understand his drive when he chooses to solve this case on his own. Any well-respected detective would have brought this to the police. King doesn’t do a good enough job explaining why this choice is made. It would have been believable if he had built Bill up as arrogant or slighted but instead the character lacks self-confidence. This lack of drive gets especially confusing when the danger ramps up, Bill uses flimsy excuses to exclude the police. When the reader finally is heard screaming in their bedroom to please for the love of God ask for help, he calls his old partner. But, what happens? Well, it’s a busy day at the precinct so Bill decides not to bother them. What?

There is also a flimsy romance plot in the story. This is obviously a weakness for King and he should probably steer clear of including a love interest in the future. It is an unconvincing whirlwind romance, in which I don’t even believe the female character likes Bill. It is weak and left me feeling she was just meant to drive the story.

All of the characters in this novel were cardboard cutouts. There is nothing driving our main character and his sidekicks throughout the book are worse. There is a young black teenager who slips into racist slave talk regularly. I am not kidding. It is meant to be a joke to show how comfortable the young man is with his old retired detective friend. It left a bad taste in my mouth and felt worn out after, like one sentence. Then there is a fragile, neurotic woman who is the cousin of our friendly detectives’ new love. How a character so far from the main plot became important enough to mention I just don’t know. She is in her forties and still living with her parents to demonstrate how mentally ill she really is. But then when everything is falling apart she turns into a major sleuth. She basically solves a case that the best detective in the city could not. Oh, and her motto is, “I’m taking my Lexapro.” Cute. The only character with any depth at all is the killer, Brady Hartsfield. His back story is firm and built throughout the story.

The killer is the only well thought out plot point, leading me to believe perhaps King wrote the book around him. His history is giving in small pieces throughout the novel to create a detailed backstory to his mental illness. Brady is disturbed, killing excites him and he has an inappropriate relationship with his mother. Death has played a big role in his life, resulting in a damaged personality. Brady unravels throughout the book until he is trying to take out as many people as he can at once. The rapid devolving of Brady is the only major interest in the novel and the only plot point that feels like the “horror” I was expecting.

The most jarring part of this novel was the blatant foreshadowing. My days in high school English classes taught me to recognize subtle foreshadowing. But I need no training for these heavy-handed dramatic phrases. Most authors choose to go subtle, make you feel the danger, implying rather than telling you how to feel. Not, King, he uses messages like, he was unaware he would not return home and similar throughout the novel. They were only useful in drawing me out of the story. There was no reason to tell me these things in advance. I much prefer to feel a creeping nervousness than being told why I should be nervous.

Overall there were a few too many problems to make this story enjoyable for me

. I wish I had started my Stephen King adventure with just about any of his other books. It has not, however, deterred me from Stephen King. In the near future, I will try the great horror writer again with Pet Sematary. I am told it is an earlier work and therefore spookier.


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