‘Mr. Mercedes’: haunted and taunted by an unsolved crime
Stephen King’s new novel “Mr. Mercedes” is a straight-up crime novel about a retired detective haunted by an unsolved crime, who rouses himself from retirement when the perpetrator threatens another one.
Special to The Seattle Times
by Stephen King
Scribner, 437 pp., $30
In 2008, in the foggy early-morning hours in an unnamed Midwestern city, something horrific happens to a group of innocent people waiting in line at a job fair. Since this is the opening of “Mr. Mercedes,” the latest novel by Stephen King, you might expect something supernatural to be the cause, but the title character is all too human. It’s someone you might hire to fix your computer or who would drive an ice-cream truck in your neighborhood.
King has written a straight-up detective novel here, a page-turner without a ghoul or ghost in sight, but plenty of well-drawn characters. After the gruesome opening chapter, King gets down to what he does best, the business of introducing us to his key players.
First up, there’s retired detective Bill Hodges, who left the police force months ago without ever solving the now-famous crime. He’s the relatable everyman character that you identify with and root for, who’s becoming bored and complacent (and possibly suicidal) in retirement. Then one day a lengthy and taunting letter arrives with his daily mail from someone claiming to be the “perk.”
Not long thereafter, the reader meets Brady Hartsfield, the self-described “perk” (Hartsfield, who thinks he’s using police jargon, means “perp” for perpetrator). He’s a quiet, intelligent and disturbed young man who works two jobs (at a big electronics store and delivering ice cream), has a basement lair full of technology and a more than disturbing relationship with his alcoholic mother.
No one can create a villain quite like King. Brady is the product of his upbringing and environment. You pity and fear him at the same time.
Then the deadly cat-and-mouse game begins. Hodges gets pulled back into the case and enlists the help of a college-age neighbor kid who helps him negotiate and understand the world of computers, chat rooms and hard drives that have passed him by. While Hartsfield, initially claiming to never want to commit another crime, begins to slowly plot a new and even deadlier one.
And this is where King excels, doling out just a little bit of information on the crime here, filling in a little more background on his characters there, switching points of view between the two main characters and introducing secondary ones that may or may not make it to the final pages.
It’s a rather short read, by King standards (just over 400 pages), but all the elements come together in a very public, potentially explosive finale (with a surprising post script). King fans may find themselves furiously turning pages long into the night.
Doug Knoop is the listings coordinator for The Seattle Times.