Almost every time I review a Stephen King book, I feel like I need disclaimers — most of his recent books are not the horror, blood, and gore that most people associate with his work. The same can be said for Mr. Mercedes. This is not the King many people avoid, in fact it’s a new genre for him — a hard-boiled detective novel. And his first attempt is a good one.
Detective Bill Hodges, retired, left only a handful of unsolved cases when he left the police force after 40 years. One of those cases comes back to haunt him when he receives a letter from a man claiming to be the one who stole Olivia Trelawney’s Mercedes and mowed down a crowd of job-seekers. This contact is the kick in the pants that Hodges needs to get out of his recliner, turn off the TV, and rejoin the human race. He opts not to inform his former partner of the letter, but instead joins forces with Janey, Olivia’s sister, who wants to find the guy responsible for her sister’s suicide, and Jerome, his 17 year-old next-door neighbor.
Brady Hartsfield has gotten a little too cocky since committing the mass murder. Bored with his jobs as big-box-store IT guy, a la Geek Squad, and ice cream man, he decides to have a little fun with Hodges, hoping to goad him into killing himself, just like he did to Mrs. Trelawney. Only Brady doesn’t know what he’s gotten himself into, and the more he pushes Hodges, the worse things get. Their cat-and-mouse game quickly turns dangerous, as Hodges gets closer and closer to Brady, who only digs himself deeper, with both making mistakes and losing loved ones along the way.
“Mr. Mercedes” is a fast-paced thrill ride, the kind of audio book that’s good for my health as it makes me walk just a little bit longer to hear what happens next. Hodges and his band of sidekicks are an unusual bunch, working well together to get the Mercedes killer. King creates characters who are believable, flawed, and not always quick on the draw, but all share a goal to keep their loved ones safe while closing the case of Hodges’ lifetime.
Longtime, loyal fans of King’s work may be disappointed by the lack of supernatural or horror, as well as a story that takes place outside King’s fictional universe, but those who enjoy well-written fiction will be satisfied by this foray into crime novels.
Notes on the audiobook: “Mr. Mercedes” is narrated by Will Patton, who also narrated “Doctor Sleep,” the sequel to “The Shining.” I didn’t like “Doctor Sleep” much, and was afraid that would curb my enjoyment of “Mr. Mercedes,” but happily that was not the case. Patton does an eerily good job at voicing a psychopath, while also nailing the nuances of the detective.