Stephen King stays away from the supernatural and explores a more Earth-bound and human-centric kind of horror in Mr. Mercedes, the first in a trilogy, which will conclude with the spring 2016 release of End of Watch. The story hits upon a type of tragedy that’s made real-world headlines in the last few years: an out of control car (naturally, a Mercedes) mows down pedestrians standing in a group, caught by surprise, and without any chance of escape. While many of these real-life incidents appear accidental, the deaths in King’s story are quite intentional and murderous.
A year after the crime, the lead Detective on the case, Bill Hodges, has retired without capturing the notorious Mr. Mercedes. Hodges receives a letter, supposedly from the killer, taunting him back onto the case. Mr. Mercedes chillingly writes,
Most people are fitted with Lead Boots when they are just little kids and have to wear them all their lives. These Lead Boots are called a CONSCIENCE. I have none, so I can soar high above the heads of the Normal Crowd.
And from there, we’re off to the races.
The story is rife with the evocative and foretelling-imbued prose I’ve come to love and expect from King:
Shortly before five A.M., Augi roused from his own half-doze, stamped his feet to wake them up, and realized an unpleasant iron light had crept into the air. It was the furthest thing in the world from the rosy-fingered dawn of poetry and old Technicolor movies; this was an anti-dawn, damp and as pale as the cheek of a day-old corpse.
Per usual, King’s pace is fast and the plot is tight. He’s able to create attractive personalities with minimal words. Detective Hodges is three-dimensional without being clichéd. Mr. Mercedes is cold-hearted, but complex, and Kings carves him out of multi-layered backstory. King is very good with broken people, and one of the most broken in Mr. Mercedes is Holly Gibney, a middle-aged woman so wracked with anxiety that she’s more child than woman. She plays a key, but relatively small part, making her first appearance about mid-way through the story. My only wish was for her to receive more print.
The story is terrific, and the writing superb, earning a Goodreads Choice Award for Mystery & Thriller in 2014 and an Edgar Award for Best Novel in 2015. Stephen King’s stories are a bit notorious for their weak endings, but Mr. Mercedes satisfies. And while this is the first in a trilogy, the novel stands completely on its own.