Stephen King has written a LOT of books in his lifetime, damn near 60 or so by this time. Along with those 60, many of which happen to be tomes, able to crush puppies and tiny children if dropped on them from a decent height, are the numerous short story collections that showcase his short fiction. King, one of the best living storytellers, has written about vampires, killer cars, psychotic nurses, post-apocalyptic worlds and even about a revisioning of the JFK assassination. His first contribution for 2014, however is outside his normal genre scope, as it visits the pulp thriller genre.
Mr. Mercedes is the novel that King claims to be his first real “hard-boiled detective” story. It tells the tale of a retired police detective named Bill Hodges. Hodges, once a celebrated police detective, now spends his days in his easy chair, watching white trash women duke it out on daytime television. One day he receives a letter in the mail from the man who comes to be known later as Mr. Mercedes. The letter taunts Hodges, practically begs him to go after this slippery psychopath. Mr. Mercedes is of course the perp that one year previous ran a gray Mercedes Benz into a crowd full of people waiting at a job fair, killing eight and wounding fifteen. This case was the last of Hodges career before he retired, hanging up his badge, but still holding onto his gun. What ensues of the story for the next 400 pages is a cat and mouse game, the killer taunting the detective and the detective doing a bit of taunting on his own.
The problems with this novel however barely outweigh the good. In 436 pages, the killer and detective only manage to taunt each other, just enough for the predictable ending that many regular mystery readers will see coming. There’s a serious lack of character development, given that the novel focuses on two main characters for it’s entire length. We do get a bit of backstory on the killer, Mr. Mercedes, but we don’t learn much about Bill Hodges or any of the other supporting cast that make the midsection of the story shine. One theme that stuck out like a sore thumb was how this story could be seen as social commentary for school shootings/mass killings/public murders. King has stated that he started writing this before the Boston Bombings, but because a good portion of the book is third person narrated by the killer, the reader actually being able to be inside his mind; many of Mr. Mercedes pages come off a public view into the mass murderers that have stricken this countries media with fear lately.
Any rabid Stephen King is going to gobble this right up. The best part about his writing and this novel in particular is that it’s very easily consumable. Although it is a rather long book, it doesn’t seem that long when you can read 50-75 pages in an hour. The story, while entertaining is rather paperthin, leaving a lot to be wanted. Folks who aren’t loyal King collectors or lifetime fans might be better to put their name on the request list at the library for this. It’s a good beach read for the summer, but don’t expect it to hold a place in your heart next to The Stand, ‘Salem’s Lot or 11/22/63.
Rating: 5.5 out of 10 – While King does a great job to hold the readers attention, not enough happens over the course of the story, warranting a shorter novel. It may be a hard-boiled detective story at heart, but it reads like a detective television show script at times.