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Monday, July 13, 2015

Finders Keepers by Stephen King

Scribner, 448 pages, $30

Will you be surprised, ecstatic, or disappointed to discover that “Finders Keepers” is a straight-ahead thriller?

Stephen King has brought back the character of Bill Hodges from “Mr. Mercedes” (c2014). After suffering a heart attack at the end of “Mr. Mercedes,” Bill has changed his ways. He eats healthy foods and is no longer a stressed-out police detective. He and Holly Gibney, another character from “Mr. Mercedes,” operate a private investigation agency. For “Finders Keepers,” they are also eventually reunited with yet another familiar character, Jerome Robinson. Together they thwarted a man who was attempting to bomb a crowd in “Mr. Mercedes.”

Did King have “Finders Keepers” in mind when he wrote “Mr. Mercedes”? The mind of a genius works in mysterious ways. One of the defining scenes of the earlier book was when the villain drove his car (a Mercedes!) into a crowd of people waiting in line for the opening of a job fair. The current book opens with what happened to one of the driver’s victims. Tom Saubers was first a victim of the bad economy at the time, and his life became even worse after he was badly injured. Tom’s teenage son, Pete, is the hero of “Finders Keepers.” A young boy at the time of his father’s accident, he, too, was traumatized by the attack when his family lost most of what they had. They especially mourned the demise of their middle-class dream and were then constantly on the verge of fragmenting. 

Long before the events of “Mr. Mercedes,” crazy-as-a-loon Morris Bellamy murdered famous, reclusive author John Rothstein — perhaps a nod to John Updike and Philip Roth — because he was mad about how Rothstein failed, in Morrie’s mind, to adequately depict the life of Jimmy Gold, his fictional protagonist, in the third and final published book in Rothstein’s series. Morrie is “rewarded” when he finds lots of Moleskine notebooks in Rothstein’s safe. Joy of joys, there could be more about Jimmy in these notebooks!

Many years later, Pete accidentally discovers those Rothstein notebooks but has no idea about the bloody lineage of his discovery. Pete uses the $20,000 he finds with the notebooks to improve his family’s life. Over the next few years, an anonymous dribble here and a surprise dribble there makes all the difference in his family’s security. More importantly, Pete discovers John Rothstein and, like Morrie before him, becomes obsessed with the writer. 

When Tina, Pete’s younger sister, becomes concerned about Pete and the origin of her family’s anonymous benefaction, she confides in Barbara Robinson, who turns out to be Jerome Robinson’s sister. Because of their past association, Barbara knows Bill Hodges, and she and Tina go to him seeking help. Little do they realize how much help they and Pete will soon need.

King, the author of many books with a supernatural horror theme, plays it straight with these characters, although Morrie is over-the-top baloozey. (“Red Lips” is how Pete later nicknames him, highlighting Morrie’s most notable physical feature. Here is a real-life version of King’s iconic scary clown.) His trio of investigators from “Mr. Mercedes” are compelling. “Finders Keepers” is a great melding of the stories of Pete’s lonely journey and the reunion of effective crime fighters.

King is a master of finding the psychological funny bone spot; it’s neither funny nor a bone, but it gives us painful shivers to see what he does to torture his characters. King must enjoy his god-of-the-story status, being able to determine which of his characters die and which just simply suffer in extremis. Oh, no, he didn’t, is what will float frequently through your mind.

At the end of “Finders Keepers,” King hints at the storyline for his his proposed third Bill Hodges book. 

“Finders Keepers” moves quickly forward, definitely the product of a genuine storyteller who understands pacing and what drives a story forward.

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