Mr Mercedes is the first in a trilogy featuring retired detective Bill Hodges. The second volume, Finders Keepers, is also out now and the final instalment, End Of Watch, is to due to be released in the UK this summer.
Although Mr Mercedes was a bit patchy, I will definitely be continuing with this series (although not yet as the Finders Keepers eBook is currently £13.99 in the UK Amazon store. £13.99?! For an eBook!). This is largely on the strength of the characters – not just Bill Hodges himself but Jerome Robinson and Holly Gibney, who end up assisting him in his informal and increasingly risky investigations here. The growing affection between the three is rather touching and it is intriguing to see them developing into a tight band of dogged investigators as the book progresses.
King places his central character in a rather interesting situation, too. When we first meet Hodges, he appears to be suffering from depression. Separated from his wife and somewhat distanced from his daughter, he is struggling to fill his days post-retirement. The majority of his time seems to be spent watching trashy talk shows (the US equivalent of Jeremy Kyle by the sounds of it) and contemplating ending his life.
But that all changes when Hodges receives a letter from Mr Mercedes – so called because he recently killed eight people by ploughing into them with a stolen Mercedes at a job fair. The Mercedes killer is targeting Hodges, taunting him because this highly commended detective retired without being able to catch him. Mr Mercedes has been watching Hodges; he knows the retired detective is close to the edge and hopes his taunting will push him over. Another victim for the Mercedes killer. Except the killer’s campaign has the opposite effect: instead of pushing Hodges closer to despair, it brings him back to life. Much of this novel is about regaining purpose and achieving a sense of belonging. This was Mr Mercedes’ strength for me: it was great to watch Hodges coming back to life, rediscovering a sense of purpose and even creating a new family of sorts with Holly and Jerome.
King also adds a particular twist that really lifts this novel and makes it that bit different to other thrillers on the market: we know who Mr Mercedes really is. Brady Hartsfield’s identity isn’t a secret from us readers, just from Hodges et al. This lends an intriguing cat-and-mouse element to the narrative: will Hodges and his sidekicks discover Hartsfield’s identity before he can kill again?
King’s genius with the pithy one liner is also in evidence here, along with his gift for staging the most darkly comic scenes. I did find the pacing of the novel a bit uneven, though. In the beginning, I found King’s tendency to dwell on very small details quite tedious and thought it slowed the narrative down almost to a standstill. Things certainly picked up but the ending was a little bit of a let down. I don’t want to give too much away, of course, but things felt rather anti-climactic given the amount of tension King had managed to build up in the final act.
As a thriller, then, this could be better and Mr Mercedes didn’t quite live up to the promise of its intriguing set-up. It is also worth pointing out that, although King is working outside of his usual horror genre here, there are some very graphic depictions of violence and the novel also features an incestuous relationship. At times, it was hard going to spend over 400 pages in the company of the highly disturbed Brady Hartsfield. Overall, though, there was enough here to hold my interest and I am looking forward to the next two instalments (once they are more reasonably priced, that is!).