Mr Mercedes is the second King novel I’ve read this year and the fourth in the last 12 months. Two of the other three novels have been re-reads (Under the Dome and Pet Semetary) and the other was Doctor Sleep (the sequel to The Shining). Whilst King is renowned for writing horror fiction, and these other three novels are based in the supernatural with horror elements (especially Pet Semetary), Mr Mercedes is a pure, hard-boiled crime thriller.
As crime thrillers go, Mr Mercedes has all the main elements that any seasoned reader would expect – the (ex) Detective, the Killer, the helpful sidekick(s), and although these characters are slightly cliché and fit into what a reader expects from a crime thriller, King delivers a tight plot with good character development to keep the reader going. I think that the clichéd characters are intentional, and certain ways in which they act and are described is overblown, taken to extremes. Bill Hodges, the ex-detective on the verge of suicide, is likably gritty and has a roughness required for the genre. Brady Hartsfield is a sociopathic killer with a childhood to match his monstrous nature, the reader is tested to sympathise with his character but you never quite get there. The sidekicks, Jerome and Holly, are both intelligent and suited perfectly to the situation they find themselves in. All of this is quite fun though. What sets Mr Mercedes apart from a lot of crime fiction, despite its standard format, is the writing. Stephen King writes a good plot, he writes good characters, he tells a story in a way to keep the reader hooked.
The opening scene to Mr Mercedes sets the novels up for its duration; it starts the book with a shock that is delivered to the reader to make an impact that is hard forgotten for the remainder of the story. The opening sequence lets the reader know how senseless our killer is, that they are not discriminatory but random. It instantly makes you think about the killers motives and who is the person that could carry out such a heinous crime. The way in which King makes you care for the victims in such a short amount of time is quite extraordinary, this emotional tie plunges the reader into the main plotline.
On the whole, the remainder of the book is pretty fast paced with only a few minor lulls in the narrative. I thought that the parts of the book that concentrate on Brady Hartsfield were very interesting; King really tries to let the reader into his head and at least hear if not understand his thinking, no matter how depraved he is as an individual. I liked that there were parts of the book that push the reader towards sympathy for the killer but quickly retract; one way in which the reader is deliberately manipulated throughout the novel is that Brady is always referred to by his forename, yet Hodges always his surname. This does help avoid confusion (both characters have the same initials), but it also makes Brady seemingly closer to the reader.
All in all, I very much enjoyed Mr Mercedes, which I understand isn’t saying much as I am predisposed to love everything King writes. However, I also think that Mr Mercedes is a very good crime thriller, certainly up there with such authors as Mark Billingham and Dennis Lehane, maybe even Thomas Harris. I would certainly recommend this book to any crime fiction reader. For those readers put off King by his horror, maybe this is your opportunity to enjoy something this great storyteller has to offer.
Mr Mercedes is the first part of a trilogy, the second part, Finders Keepers, will be published in 2015