Mr. Mercedes (Bill Hodges #1) by Stephen King
Hardcover, 448 pages
Published June 3rd 2014 by Simon & Schuster
I borrowed a copy of Mr. Mercedes from my library. On the spine, a sticker reads “Horror” like most of King’s other works. This, along with the creepy cover art, directs my expectations. It promises mass murder, thrills, and chills.
Unfortunately, however, Mr. Mercedes does not deliver. I realize now that this novel was meant to be King’s “first hard-boiled detective novel.” However, it just didn’t do it for me.
Mr. Mercedes is the story of a murderous psychopath, and a retired detective. While Detective Bill Hodges is still on the job, the psychopath plows down an unsuspecting crowd of people waiting outside of a job fair. He does this in a stolen Mercedes-Benz.
The massacre goes unsolved and Detective Hodges retires. In the fashion of most narcissistic psychopaths, the killer cannot let sleeping dogs lie. He got away, but he can’t resist wreaking further havoc. So he sends a letter to Retired Detective Hodges.
This letter leads Hodges on a quest to stop and apprehend Mr. Mercedes at all costs.
I understand why Hodges first feels the need to keep the letter from the police. It was a personal attack. He feels guilty. He feels like he might be able to gain more traction in his own investigation, unhindered by protocol and politics. However, as the story goes on and Hodges gets himself in deeper and deeper, his reasoning behind keeping the police out of it become increasingly murky.
At first, it’s out of necessity that Hodges involves his teenage neighbour and his love interest. However, as he sees what Mr. Mercedes is capable of, it’s hard to believe that his intentions and judgement remain sound as he continues to involve them and keep the police in the dark. He puts them and their family in increasing and unnecessary danger.
This might make for a good plot element if Hodges’ own interests clouded his judgement. But King doesn’t portray him that way. Hodges is the hero, and is continually described in this light. This, unfortunately, leads to a strange contradiction that King does not account for.
Although the characters are generally well drawn and compelling, their involvement in the plot does not always sit right. This is true to the very end.
This book contains what you’d expect of your above average crime novel. There was no horror, no thrills. There were a few chills, but they hardly stood up to King’s usual work. However, even the crime wasn’t of the grisly and gruesome variety. Honestly, the only reason I dubbed this book as anything above average is King’s writing. His style and ability were really the only things that kept me reading. I found the story itself was average at best.
If you like a mystery that’s more character driven than plot driven, you might like this one. However, be prepared to either mindlessly follow where King leads, or be left pondering plot holes and, at times, less than believable character motivation.