Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King finds one of the world’s most popular horror novelists writing in a new genre: thriller. Mr. Mercedes also offers us an unlikely hero, a retired ex-detective named Bill Hodges. Overweight, depressed and bored, Hodges is contacted by the so-called City Center killer, a mass murderer who plowed a stolen Mercedes into a crowd of job seekers waiting outside the city’s coliseum for a job fair. The City Center killer was one of only four cases Hodges left unsolved before his retirement. Out of clues, out of time, Hodges turned the case over to his ex-partner Pete and resigned himself to a bored, lonely existence…until the City Center killer sends him a letter, taunting him to figure out his next move.
Hodges is joined by an intriguing and fully-fleshed out set of unlikely characters. There’s Jerome, an African American teenage neighbor who cuts his lawn and ends up becoming a sort of junior detective; Janelle, called Janey, the sister of the woman whose Mercedes was stolen by the killer, and a woman Hodges quickly falls in love with; and Holly, Janey’s cousin, an OCD, depressed and repressed 45-year old woman who reminded me of the Bette Davis character in Now, Voyager.
The City Center killer is known right from the start of the book to the reader, so I won’t give anything away by using his name. Brady, the killer, taunts Bill, but Bill is an expert at taunting criminals back and getting them to reveal enough information so he can solve crimes. Together with Jerome, Holly and Janey, he tracks down enough information to figure out how Brady killed Olivia, Janey’s sister, and where his next target will be. Then it is a race against time for them to put together all the clues and find the wily Brady.
One of the things that makes a good thriller is a detective and killer who are evenly matched. The killer has to get caught, of course, or at least get his comeuppance, or else the reader feels cheated. But it can’t be an easy catch or else the reader feels even MORE cheated. Here, King’s ability to write believable, three-dimensional characters really shines. While I thought Hodges was a better written character than Brady, Brady’s intelligence is believable.
King’s characters in this book as excellent, but the plot, although well paced, had some cliches in it that I thought it could do without. We have the mama’s boy serial killer from a broken home. He seemed too much at time like the killer from Silence of the Lambs, except he had computers in his lair instead of women.
Although this isn’t my favorite King work, it is still a good work, and a solid, enjoyable read. I borrowed my book from the public library, but you can purchase a copy on Amazon by clicking the link at the start of this blog post or the picture, above. It will take you to Amazon where I have an affiliate link. I receive a little compensation if you buy a book, but it does not affect your price. Thanks.
4 out of 5 stars for Mr. Mercedes.