This summer, Stephen King has come out with a sequel to last year’s Mr. Mercedes. That book was a solidly enjoyable thriller with nothing supernatural about it — a race against time to catch an unpleasant mass murderer. I enjoyed it, though it had its flaws, and I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to try King but is put off by horror. (I would have plenty of other recommendations, too, though!)
Finders Keepers is a better novel than Mr. Mercedes. For one thing, King is writing about the relationship between writers and readers, something he loves to ponder. (Novelists are the main characters in at least nine or ten of his books.) For another, the premise is great: there’s an author, John Rothstein, who has written a spectacularly successful trilogy of books and has then retreated to his home in New Hampshire and never published again. (This author is obviously and hilariously supposed to be mostly John Updike; the novels in the trilogy are called The Runner, The Runner Sees Action, and The Runner Slows Down.) One night, he is rudely awakened by a group of thugs, who appear to want the money in his safe, but one of them — Morris Bellamy — actually wants what’s more precious: the hundreds of Moleskine notebooks in which Rothstein has written unpublished stories, novels, and verse. This “fan” is furious that Rothstein dared to take his main character, Jimmy Gold, down a path of consumerism and self-satisfaction. He wants revenge — and he gets it, along with the notebooks. Thirty years after the crime, it’s safe for Morris to return for the money and those little black books. Both are gone (I won’t tell you why.) It’s time for bloody-minded revenge again, and again on an unsuspecting innocent.
This book is suspenseful and gripping, with the good characterization that makes King so generally enjoyable. Bill Hodges, the retired police detective who was the main character in Mr. Mercedes, doesn’t come in until about halfway through this one, and he isn’t necessary. Far from being the “perfect” murderer, as we had in Mr. Mercedes, Morris seems hapless and a little nebbishy. But the results of his utterly selfish and murderous intentions are frightening and deadly. And there’s a little fillip of a question remaining from the last book, too — something Hodges can’t quite resolve. I’m very interested to see what King will do with it in the third book, coming out next year.
Finders Keepers isn’t a perfect book. This makes, for instance, the second murderer in a row who can blame his mother for his problems, and there’s another bad mother thrown into the book for good measure. King has Issues (just check out the mothers in his fiction, starting with Carrie’s mom) and he can be repetitive. I also noticed that he never really resolved what I considered to be the real question at the heart of the book: why didn’t Rothstein publish the extra novels about Jimmy Gold? I have theories — if you’ve read this book, let’s discuss it in the comments. But overall, I really enjoyed reading this, and ripped through it on an airplane ride. It’s a satisfying, engrossing book, and I recommend it.