Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Book Review: "Mr. Mercedes" by Stephen King

One of the things I love about Stephen King is his ability to create memorable villains and heroes. Even when a book isn't one of his best, the characters are often one of the things that sets his writing apart from other authors. Characters like Pennywise, Annie Wilkes, Jack Torrance, even Christine, remain seared in my memory years after I've read the books in which they've appeared. Mr. Mercedes, King's newest book, doesn't rank among some of his best, but I still found its protagonist, the villain, and some of the supporting characters pretty strong.

Early one morning, a large crowd of people gathers to line up for a job fair. Many of the people are desperate for work. And suddenly, without warning, a man drives a Mercedes into the groggy crowd, killing eight people (including an infant) and wounding nearly twenty more. The Mercedes was stolen from a wealthy woman, although she denies leaving her key in the car, and the perpetrator left no traces behind. It's as if he planned this crime perfectly and knew what he needed to do to escape detection.

Several months later, former detective Bill Hodges, feeling useless and depressed after retirement, gets a letter from the man purporting to be "Mr. Mercedes." He divulges facts only the killer could know, and although he vows that he isn't interested in committing another massacre, he does prey on Hodges' depression. However, the letter ultimately shakes Hodges out of his doldrums, vowing to catch one of the criminals he couldn't bring to justice before retirement, and ensuring he prevents another tragedy from occurring.

Hodges will have his work cut out for him. Not only does he need to keep his shadow investigation secret from his former partner and the police department, but "Mr. Mercedes" is far more twisted and intelligent than he realizes. And the criminal has plans for Hodges—and for a future scheme—and he will not be deterred by anyone. But what Mr. Mercedes doesn't realize is that Hodges, too, has some tricks up his sleeve, plus an unlikely pair of assistants to help save the day.

While I thought the plot of Mr. Mercedes was fairly formulaic, and not at the level of some of King's best books, I really thought the characters were vividly drawn. Even though they grew from stereotypes, I found each of them far more complex than initially expected, and that made the book more compelling for me to keep reading. King's use of language and metaphor is always spot-on, and I also liked how he threw in a few inside jokes about some of his more well-known books as well.

If you're a fan of Stephen King, this is a good book for beach or vacation reading (although it will make you think twice about going into a crowded place or waiting on a long line of people). It's not vintage King, but it's definitely entertaining.

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