This is the third in Stephen King’s trilogy about Bill Hodges, a retired police detective. The first two, Mr. Mercedes and Finders Keepers, were solid, fast-paced thrillers, nothing paranormal about them. Hodges and his two sidekicks, Holly Gibney and Jerome Robinson, track down clues and find a couple of nasty killers; it’s satisfying and fun, if not especially deep. (I particularly liked Finders Keepers for the way King blew a drive-by raspberry at a couple-three literary authors.)
End of Watch, though, takes a turn into more… what would you say? typically Kingly territory. Brady Hartsfield, the vicious Mercedes killer from the first book, was in the background of Finders Keepers. In End of Watch, he takes center stage again as it becomes clear that he has new powers (why? there are a couple of reasons proposed, but it’s left a little fuzzy) that allow him to move objects with his mind, and, eventually, transfer his personality into other people’s minds. There, he begins to enact a complex and blackly evil plan to push people into an unstoppable wave of suicides, and so kill as many young people as he can — making up for those he failed to kill in Mr. Mercedes.
I suppose it’s not surprising that a 70-year-old author who’s been in a near-fatal car accident would be thinking a lot about mortality these days (see also his recent books Revival and Doctor Sleep. Not that he didn’t think about death a lot before, too, so there’s that.) The themes of life and death weave through this book in a nuanced way and at several different layers. One especially nice thing about End of Watch is that you can see the arc of the entire trilogy: while each book stands alone quite well, it’s also a pleasure to see the way King kept certain elements at a simmer in each book, reminding us, and how certain themes have been important the entire way through until they come to a head at the very end.
One thing that really doesn’t work well about this novel is that it leans heavily on technical know-how. Brady Hartsfield gets into other people’s minds by lightly hypnotizing them with a hand-held video game. Great! I just explained that to you in one sentence. Maybe — maybe! — you would need a little more explanation about how someone who was supposedly paralyzed and brain-dead could do that. Maybe a paragraph. This novel goes into so, so, so much more detail than it needs — agonizing detail — detail like someone from the American Civil War might not need. King uses the excuse of Bill Hodges being old and needing help with technical stuff, but ugh! It reminded me of Jo Walton’s saying in What Makes This Book So Great that people who aren’t used to writing science fiction sometimes don’t do it so well. King should do it better.
Overall, though, this was such an enjoyable book. The first two novels were detective novels, and this one turns into more of a supernatural novel that has a detective as its protagonist — but the transformation seems realistic, because King has been preparing us for it all along. I do recommend these books as good, middle-of-the-road King — keep them coming, and I’ll keep reading.