Mr. Mercedes

mr mercedesIf you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time, you’ll know that Teresa and I are not just Stephen King fans, we’re mild-to-moderate King evangelists. He’s a genuinely good writer, and he writes a variety of things that aren’t horror at all, so we generally feel we can lure you in, even if you’re not interested in reading about Gruesome Killings From Beyond. (Though if you are, I can make recommendations there, too.)

I was very pleased to see that King was coming out with a new novel this summer, Mr. Mercedes. His last couple of books, Doctor Sleep and 11/22/63, were absolutely firing on all cylinders, top-of-his-game King — the first in particular about struggling with addiction, a worthy successor to The Shining, and the other about the consequences, dilemmas, urgencies and poignancies of time travel. With King on this kind of a roll, I was really looking forward to the new one.

Mr. Mercedes, as it turns out, is a solid thriller with nothing supernatural about it. As the book opens, someone runs a grey Mercedes into a crowd of people waiting for a job fair to open. All that solid German engineering does its work, and the attack kills eight people and injures dozens more. The killer escapes, leaving not a trace of DNA behind, and the main police officer on the case, Bill Hodges, retires with his medals before they have a single break in the case.

It turns out, though, that the killer is planning something far bigger and far worse. He reaches out to Hodges through the internet, unable to avoid drawing attention to himself and his perfect crime, and there ensues a suspenseful race: will Hodges (and a highly-unlikely assortment of helpers) get the killer before he carries out his plan?

I’d place this novel in the middle of the pack for King. We’re not talking about the quality of his more recent books; this is no Doctor Sleep and it’s certainly no The Shining. (But, thank goodness, it’s also no Christine.) It’s so radically unlikely that Hodges would not have handed over this case to current police and police resources, I kept tripping over it in my mind. King gave a lame reason for it, but he just never made it plausible for me. I was also a bit suspicious about the killer’s initial letter to Hodges. He was highly intelligent, and the reason for the letter seemed unlike his usual M.O., so it felt a bit like a McGuffin. There’s also some pretty weak characterization for all but the two main antagonists, Hodges and the killer (the killer is especially great.) Since characterization and dialogue are normally King’s strengths, I was disappointed.

On the other hand, the plot points are great. Hodges’ police work is realistic and interesting, and the corresponding work of the killer is fascinating and scary. Each little escalation on both sides is grip-the-book-harder suspenseful, if not always what you might consider prudent. If I couldn’t get behind most of the characters, I could definitely get behind two of them, and the way the hunt for the killer progressed. The final scenes of confrontation are worth staying up late to finish, but they also have a touch of satire about them that is pure King.

Middle-of-the-pack King is still worth reading, in my view, and I enjoyed the book, which I ripped through in about a day and a half. Don’t go in expecting a masterpiece, but do go in expecting to have fun.

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13 Responses to Mr. Mercedes

  1. When exactly is it coming out?

  2. Deb says:

    I think you hit the nail on the head when you write about the implausibility of some of King’s character’s actions. This has long been a problem for me with King’s work. So often it seems that a character’s actions (or inactions) exist in order to serve the plot, rather then procede organically from who the character is. This reached its apex in Lisey’s Story when Lisey finds a dead cat in her mailbox and then FORGETS to call the police (King says it’s because she’s so angry; I say it’s because it’s convenient for the plot). Suffice to say, I have a hard time with King’s style!

    • Jenny says:

      Well, this does happen from time to time, you’re right. I can’t think of too many self-serving examples, though. Most of the time, when someone makes a mistake, it seems plausible to me — human-nature sorts of things. I think the way he works those sorts of things into the plot divides the really great books from the mediocre from the bad. With about 50 novels to his credit, I cut him some slack — but when he is good, he is very very good, and when he is bad, he is horrid.

  3. Melissa says:

    I’m a new King convert. After thinking he was just a horror writer for years I finally tried a few of his books. I read and loved The Stand, The Shining, 11/22/63, It, Misery, The Green Mile and a few others. Now I’m just on a mission to keep reading more of his best books!

    • Jenny says:

      Well, you’ve gotten a very good start! Try The Dead Zone, The Talisman, and the Gunslinger series — those are a few more that Teresa and I agree on as favorites. Glad you’re enjoying his work!

  4. Annabel (gaskella) says:

    I’ve seen some mixed reviews of this one – most of which were disgruntled horror fans I think upset they got a thriller instead. As usual – it’s on my TBR pile! Glad it’s a fun read though, even if not his best.

    • Jenny says:

      That’s funny — after all, King has written a bucketload of things that aren’t horror (including nonfiction.) But it is a pretty good read, and I think you’ll like it. Looking forward to your review!

  5. JaneGS says:

    I’m new to King still (but thanks to you have read 11/22/63 and Joyland), and this sounds like my kind of King–no supernatural but still interesting. Although so-so writing irritates me so maybe I should go with Dr. Sleep instead. Do I need to reread The Shining first? That’s the only other King I’ve read and I read it simply because it was set in Colorado and I love Estes Park and the Stanley Hotel.

    • Jenny says:

      I read Doctor Sleep without re-reading The Shining, and enjoyed it immensely, but I think you’d get even more out of it with The Shining fresh in your mind. If you didn’t really enjoy The Shining, don’t bother, but if you thought it was great (as I did), then go ahead and refresh your memory, is what I’d say.

  6. Lisa says:

    Not the books, but I just saw that one of the cable channels (Encore) is running a month-long series of the films of his books, in honor of his birthday in September. The ad was fun, recreating famous scenes. I thought of you two, though I don’t remember if you’ve written about the films as well.

    • Jenny says:

      I haven’t written about the films mostly because I haven’t seen almost any of them! You’ll be amused to know that just a week ago, Teresa and I were together for our annual college-girlfriends-get-together, and we all saw Carrie:The Musical. What a performance!

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