Monday, June 16, 2014

Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King

I think I can count on one hand the number of times that I've bought a book at an airport, even though I travel pretty frequently. I usually travel with a bag of books, and running out of something to read doesn't happen too often. But major delays on two flights recently meant that I ended up in one of the Houston Airport bookstores just a few days after the release of Stephen King's new book Mr. Mercedes.

Mr. Mercedes starts off with a conversation between two strangers standing in line for a job fair at the City Center - a man and a woman with her baby. They're early  - and desperate - and so even though the job fair doesn't start until the morning, there is a long snaking line of unemployed hopefuls taking their position in the middle of the night. The first few in, they think, are guaranteed jobs. But they don't ever make it inside. A grey Mercedes crashes into the lineup, killing eight people and maiming many others. It's a horrific scene, so shocking in the moment that no one sees where the Mercedes goes after, and no one ever finds the man who perpetrated the massacre.

The book picks up years later and focuses on Bill Hodges, the retired detective who was investigating the the "Mr. Mercedes" case. He's been spending the long days of his retirement sitting in front of the TV and putting on weight. He's also considering committing suicide. He's come to understand that his life isn't going to get any better, and it isn't going to change. That is, until he receives a letter in the mail from the self-described Mr. Mercedes, taunting Bill out of retirement. His lengthy letter is filled with typos, evidence that he was the one who drove the Mercedes into the line at the City Center, and an admission that he has no desire to kill anyone again. But Bill Hodges is not so sure.

The letter is just enough to bring him out of his retirement, and to begin making inquiries into the case, reopening it on his own terms, and his own time. It's a detective novel at its heart, although there are still queasy instances of the horror that King is so well-versed in. Bill is soon joined by some unlikely allies, and together they work to bring Mr. Mercedes down before he can instigate another massacre.

I really enjoyed Mr. Mercedes. It was the perfect airplane book, compelling and horrifying, and I finished it just a few days after I got home. One of my favorite parts of the book came at the end, when Bill Hodges identifies a roadie who's wearing a Judas Coyne t-shit: Coyne, the protagonist of Heart-Shaped Box is one of my favorite characters in literature. And Coyne belongs to King's son, Joe Hill. I love that kind of intertextuality, when fictional characters cross over books, especially books by a father and his son. Mr. Mercedes was an incredibly satisfying read, and an unpredictable one.

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