Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King starts off with a horrendous crime. A man drives a large Mercedes into a group of people waiting to go into a jobs fair. It is an effective, if gruesome start to our story. There are two main POV characters. We spend time with Bill Hodges, a decorated police detective, now retired and slowly going to seed. We also get to know, perhaps a bit too well, the Mr. Mercedes from the title. He is a man with issues, a freudian delight. The two, protagonists, linked by the crime from the opening chapter, taunt, circle and torture each other throughout the book.
There isn’t any mystery as such. We know exactly who the killer is. The book is about the thrill of the game of cat and mouse that Bill and Mr. Mercedes play. It is difficult to tell who exactly is who is the hunter and who is the hunted – and this is the joy of the book. We are joined by a number of other characters. Bill is assisted by his neighbour Jerome, a precocious and talented teenager and Holly, a brilliant, if neurotic woman with a link to the original crime.
The plot moves along nicely, with the tension building to an explosive finale.
So why the three stars?
If I were to compare Mr. Mercedes to a restaurant, it would be Pizza Express. You know exactly what you will get as soon as you enter the door. The experience is predictable, but enjoyable and is good value. Faint praise perhaps – but this is not a challenging book. It is enjoyable, and I found it hard to put it down, but I doubt it will stay with me for any longer than a Pizza Express meal does.
What I liked:
– The setting: The book is set in an unnamed mid-western town at the tail end of the Great Recession. Jobs are scarce, and people work multiple jobs to make ends meet
– The pace: Things move fast in this book. The book covers events in a two week period, and a lot of stuff happens!
– The humour: Stephen King has always a been a funny writer. Even in this vanilla thriller, there are nuggets of comedy that made me laugh out load.
What I didn’t like:
– The characters: The bad guy is a cliche – a loner with mommy issues and technical skills. Each character has problems. Vivacious divorcee – check; precocious minority teenager – check; Neurotic middle aged woman with mental problems – triple check!
– The plot: Things happen (death, love, murder) very quickly and characters make decisions that do not make sense given what we know about them.
Mr. Mercedes is the first of the “Bill Hodges” trilogy, with “Finders Keepers” the second and a third in the pipeline.