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Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King

Gallery Books, 448 pages, $17 (c2014)

Perhaps I shouldn’t have read the second book, “Finders Keepers,” in the Det. Bill Hodges (Ret.) series first. Although “Mr. Mercedes” won an Edgar and was critically well-received, I liked “Finders Keepers” much better because of the storyline. “Mr. Mercedes” proceeds along a predictable general plan, although with the Stephen King pizzaz to elevate it.

Bored in retirement after a meaningful police career, Bill Hodges is watching daytime “reality” television and contemplating suicide. He had three big cases hanging fire when he retired, one of which really fried his gullet. About a year ago, someone had crashed a Mercedes into a crowd of people, killing several, including a mother and her baby. The perp then sped away and left nary a clue behind.

While nursing his ennui, Hodges receives a letter from someone claiming to be Mr. Mercedes, the driver of the killer car. By taunting Hodges and playing on his guilt at not having caught the driver, Brady Hartsfield gleefully hopes Hodges will commit suicide. (Yes, we immediately learn the identity of “Mr. Mercedes.”) He has been secretly observing the overweight, aimless ex-detective and wants to play.

At first Hodges does not believe that Mr. Mercedes has really written to him. He delves a little more into the case, interviewing the sister, Janey Patterson, and mother of recently deceased Olivia Trelawney. It was Olivia’s Mercedes that Brady used to mow down the people. When Janey shows him a letter Olivia received similar to the one he has, Hodges realizes that Olivia was probably driven to suicide by Mr. Mercedes. Now his dander is up.

Enlisting the help of a teenage neighbor, Jerome, Hodges and Janey try to find Mr. Mercedes. Hmmm. It was pretty shaky ground that King used to explain why Hodges didn’t go to the police for help. Surely an ex-cop would be even more likely to turn the “evidence” over. Nevertheless, this contrivance makes for some excellent high adventure by the trio.

Of course, King’s characters reign supreme. He does a wonderful job of gifting his characters with quirkiness. There are loops and turns, the road running rough for both good and evil.

It’s not necessary to read “Mr. Mercedes” before reading “Finders Keepers,” but there are some nice backstory setups in “Mr. Mercedes.” After reading “Mr. Mercedes,” do not stop, do not pass go, head straight to “Finders Keepers.” The third book in the proposed Bill Hodges trilogy should be out soon.

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