Book Review: Mr. Mercedes, by Stephen King

Four out of Five Stars

All in all, I enjoyed the book, but there are issues with it that bear mentioning. By the way, it’s not horror. It’s a thriller with no supernatural or horror elements.

The story is about a retired detective (which King annoyingly refers to repeatedly as “Det. Ret.) who starts out as a mopey sap, and pretty much stays a mopey sap to the end of the story. His mission is to find the “Mercedes Killer,” a sicko who used a stolen Mercedes to drive into a group of people to kill them.

The writing is classic King. His voice is obvious if you’ve read any of his stuff. I enjoy his writing. It’s easy to follow and very organic. By that, I mean you sense that he’s just making it up as he goes along, which is a hell of a lot of fun for a writer. The story has structure, but this way of writing makes the characters real. He is a master of character development.

As to the story, all the elements are there. There’s an inciting incident, pinch points, and all the plot points, pretty much where they should be. For the student of writing, this would be a good novel to study as to structure.

All good commercial fiction has to have an evil antagonist. The bad guy in this book had it all, which is actually one of the things other reviewers didn’t like about it. He was a sexist, a racist, a homophobe, a sociopath, an atheist, had an incestuous relationship with his mother, and was a psychopathic killer. The only thing he lacked was being an alcoholic or drug addict.

The “hero” started out wasting what was left of his life after retiring from the police force by watching television, getting fat, and contemplating suicide. He had been a good detective, and retirement did not suit him. He is reinvigorated to some degree by getting the gig to find the killer, but I can’t say he changed much, other than he might have been less likely to kill himself.

One thing interesting about this story is that he had decent detective skills, but he was useless at anything else. His sidekicks had to help him to the extent that they were the ones who end up taking on the antagonist at the climax while the “hero” sits it out having a heart attack. Not much of a character arc, and not much of a hero. Less well-known writers could not get away with that. It flies in the face of commercial fiction dogma. But hey, he’s Stephen King.

One thing I found interesting was that the main character was sixty-four and a retired cop. One of the things I complain about is that there are no middle-aged or retirement-aged protagonists, male or female, except for retired cops or private investigators. If you can think of one, let me know.

I did a review of “The Big Seven” by Jim Harrison, which was a story about a retired cop who takes on a sort of PI-like roll.

In King’s story, I see the message that an old man isn’t fit to be the hero; the world belongs to the young, and the old are nearly useless. Hodges, the main character, is fat, he can barely use a cell phone, and he knows nothing about computers. The real heroes of the show are a seventeen-year-old black high school student, and a nut-job of a forty-something white woman. They do all the heavy lifting hero-wise. They know about computers, which is quite important to the story. They end up confronting the bad guy, at considerable risk to themselves, while the “hero” sat out of harm’s way having a heart attack. Not exactly Luke Skywalker or Rambo.

One thing that bothered me was that the black character was a minor. In this day and age, you can’t be in the same room alone with a minor, male or female. Not only do Hodges and the boy spend a lot of time together, the young man ends up being involved in a series of crimes for which he would have been tried as an adult. For example, trespass, breaking and entering, impersonating a police officer, carrying a gun without a permit, and evidence tampering. 

Worse, our hero is therefore guilty of child abuse, child endangerment, contributing to the delinquency of a minor, and probably more. All King had to do was make the kid eighteen, and all these problems go away.

In any event, a decent and entertaining story, although not a masterpiece.