If you’re looking for a fun beach read that features a glut of stunted sexuality and shocking violence, Mr. Mercedes is the book for you. I enjoyed it very much even though it’s the sort of book that the thrill fades quickly after the last word is read, sort of like The Da Vinci Code. Mr. Mercedes is a page-turner in the Stephen King tradition, but not one for the ages.
Mr. Mercedes is a whacko who drives his car into a huge crowd of people, killing eight, and through a combination of crazy, dumb luck, and planning, gets away with it. And the insanity keeps on coming as he thinks of more and more ways to kill people, although he doesn’t quite follow through on most of his ideas. The cop who was trying to catch him, Bill Hodges, has retired and is running out the clock watching afternoon TV and getting comfortable with the idea of killing himself (a conceit that never quite rang true for this reader). But when Mr. Mercedes sends Hodges a mocking letter, the retired detective gets off his ass and sets his crosshairs on bringing Mr. Mercedes into the hoosegow. Along the way, Hodges meets the Mercedes’ owner’s sister, dream woman Janey, who helps a lot with getting the gun out of Hodges’ mouth. My favorite character is Janey’s niece, Holly, who suffers from arrested development but is smart and good with computers and turns out to be someone you want in your corner.
Although I enjoyed this book, part of me was aware that it felt like a writing exercise for Mr. King. He mentioned John Sanford, author of the successful Prey series, a few times in Doctor Sleep and I felt like King thought, I want to write a John Sanford novel– which usually consist of a crazy person’s perspective and the perspective of Lucas Davenport, the rogue detective chasing the crazy person. Mr. Mercedes is structured in this Crazy Person/Hunter way, which is fine, nothing wrong with that, tried and true. And maybe this isn’t Hamlet, but it was a fun read. I was surprised that it looks like King is setting up a series about the retired detective. Maybe King’s buddy, J.K. Rowling, told him that it’s fun to write detective series? (Editor’s note: He’s referring to the Cormoran Strike series that Rowling writes under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith.) But fans of King’s will no doubt notice that there is nothing supernatural in this book, which is sort of King’s thing. Even some of his more straight-forward books will have, say, a finale that takes place in a painting or a turtle that created the galaxy.
A strange theme in the book is responsibility. The Mercedes that the titular character drives into the crowd shows up again and again. The owner, Olivia Trelawney, is crucified in the press for seeming to have left her keys in the car. I don’t see it, personally. The reason I don’t leave my keys in the ignition is not so that people don’t steal my car and kill people with it. It just all seems incredibly weird, but “literary” in the sense that the theme is dealt with. It’s not too annoying, but I didn’t quite buy it. Well, I could believe that someone would feel guilty if their car was used to kill eight people, but not that the police would blame the car owner.
The only place where we go full-on Stephen King is when we’re looking at things from Mr. Mercedes’ point of view, which is a horrible place to be. He hates minorities, women, life, and has done some awful things. Although to his credit, he loves his mother. The character was interesting to me because he wasn’t a super villain. His plans fail. He makes mistakes. And he is practically begging to be caught. In short, even though he’s larger-than-life, he’s kind of realistic. I feel like King really understands why people do awful things.
I do like the new Stephen King habit of titling books with honorifics. I wonder if he wishes he could go back and re-title The Stand, Mrs. World’s End By Common Colds. What’s next? Madame Mutilation? Her Honor the Liver Donor? The Deadly Dowager? I can’t wait! Cannibal, Esquire?