March 2, 2015

Far From a Clunker: a review of Stephen King's "Mr. Mercedes"

Mr. Mercedes
by Stephen King
Scribner (2014)
436 pages
ISBN 1476754454 

Available at

It's been a fair while since I reviewed a Stephen King novel on the blog, so I figured I'd give this one a go.

The crowd awaiting the opening of a job fair are in bad enough straits, but their lives are irrevocably altered--and for several, ended--when a Mercedes Benz plows through the crowd. The driver is never caught, and the grizzled detective tasked with catching him has retired in quiet disgrace months later, empty-handed.

Det. Bill Hodges doesn't have a whole lot to live for after his days on the force are ended, but there is a glimmer of hope to both re-invigor and redeem himself when letter arrive at his home, signed by someone purporting to be the notorious Mr. Mercedes.

Running tandem with his story is that of Brady, the killer. Far from the mustache-twirling villain or the Hannibal-esque mastermind, Brady is a psychopath stuck in the quicksand of his own life, as much or more so than Hodges is in his. Brady may not be obsessed with the horrific events he committed, but that fleeting high is gone now and the itch is coming back.

If Stephen King does anything with skill, it's with his characters, especially the ones that might otherwise have the depth of cardboard. Amid all the strange goings-on both new and well-worn, he gives each of them a breath of life. Nobody feels tinny or tacked on. These are our friends, our family, our neighbors, and that might be the most frightening bit of his tales.

Rather than the fantastical we expect when we think of the quintessential King novel, Mr. Mercedes venturing into the psycho-thriller territory, which I think might be new ground for him, at least in terms of contemporary novel-length fiction. As it stands, it's pretty good.

Trouble is that it's not great. While the interplay between Hodges and Brady worked quite well, with each one taking turns outwitting the other, the build up in tension didn't ever hit that precipice the way other more taut thrillers have in the past. There's a payoff at the end, but I couldn't help feeling a little shortchanged. Still, King fans should delight, and thriller fans should definitely give it a try.

1 comment:

  1. I've never been able to forgive him for the bores that were Insomnia and Dreamcatcher. One day I may try a new book of his, but I doubt it.