Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Mr. Mercedes

Mr. Mercedes is the latest thriller from Stephen King and let me tell you that though King is best known as the “King of Horror”, he’s proven he’s got a real claim on the title “Master of Suspense” as well, as he clearly shows he can do no wrong no matter the genre; whether horror, thriller, or heck even romance (he does a credible job with it in some of the plot points in this novel). The truth is Mr. Mercedes is an incredibly gripping, edge of your seat crime novel with memorable characters, both protagonist and antagonist, featuring a story that easily strikes fear in the human heart without relying on supernatural powers or scary clowns, instead doing so by evoking the all too real evil present in our own society.

Mr. Mercedes starts with the gruesome and all too familiar scene of a mass killing by a deranged assailant. Hundreds of people lined up in the pre-dawn hours awaiting guaranteed jobs at a local job fair become the direct targets of a stolen gray Mercedes driven by a masked driver intent on running over as many bodies as possible. Dubbed Mr. Mercedes by the press, the killer escapes. Recently retired detective Bill Hodges, previously assigned to the case, is struggling with his newfound free time. Lonely, overweight and hooked on reality TV, Hodges now spends his time reminiscing about the good old days, obsessing over the one that got away, and as of late playing with his late father’s gun and giving serious consideration to ending it all.

It was another day of the same when Hodges receives a letter from someone identifying themselves as the perk (perp), and taunting him with his knowledge of the crime; clearly instigating Hodges to end his miserable life. Despite Mr. Mercedes’ clear hopes of pushing the depressed detective over the edge, his letter only serves to fuel Hodges and give him a purpose and goal to catch the sicko and prevent a future tragedy. Brady Hartsfield, an IT consultant for an electronics store by day and ice cream man by night, lives with his doting alcoholic mother. Brady got a pure thrill from not only killing all of those people with the car and getting away with it, but unbeknownst to the police, also playing a role in the suicide of the stolen car’s owner, and is now positively giddy at the possibility of pushing just the right buttons to get the old man to kill himself as well.

Brady is smart (though thoroughly insane) and at an advantage with his knowledge of today’s technology, but his downfall just might be that he’s underestimated his opponent, for Bill Hodges is a great cop, who with the help of two of the unlikeliest partners, will do everything in his power to hunt down this evil and stop him before he has the chance to strike again.

I had never been a Stephen King fan in the past; the only book of his which I read prior to this year was The Green Mile, but I must say these last two novels – both Doctor Sleep and Mr. Mercedes - have won me over and made me a loyal reader. Though different in genre, I loved Mr. Mercedes no less than Doctor Sleep and like with that book I was completely enthralled by this tale’s battle between good and evil. From the first page to the last, King has delivered a riveting cat and mouse chase between a police officer as smart and insightful as any of the famous PI’s found in fiction (Mike Hammer, Phillip Marlowe, or Sam Spade) and a maniacal killer whose deranged mind proves to be the detective's perfect counterbalance.

Alternately narrated by Hodges and Brady, the plot delivers in both pacing, smarts, and action, but it really is the cast of characters that raises the quality another notch. Hodges is likeable and smart and his flaws and vices only serve to make him more human, but it’s his two allies that deliver the perfect emotional punch for me; Jerome, a young African American teenager who cuts Hodges’ lawn and also provides the technology know-how to navigate online chat rooms and computer kill programs, and Holly, a single 40-something year old, emotionally stunted by an overbearing mother who is coping with psychological and emotional problems including OCD and anxiety which have her popping Lexapro like tic tacs. Of course, there’s also Brady, who gives us a scary look at the darkness found in the mind of a twisted individual; from his stomach turning mommy issues, to his hate of the world and everyone in it.

Mr. Mercedes was a suspenseful must-read that was all the more chilling thanks to a spine-tingling villain who proves to be a believable real-life monster with boy next door good looks; the kind of psychopath we hear about in the news way too often lately.