Monday 22 December 2014

Miss your bus stop with Stephen King

Published 14/07/2014 | 02:30

In this departure from King's usual supernatural and horror novels Bill Hodges is a recent "Det. Ret." - a retired detective who spends his days on his La-Z-Boy recliner watching trashy TV shows ("the lady judge and the Nazi psychologist"), stuffing himself with unhealthy snacks and contemplating suicide.

Hodges is suddenly jolted out of his apathy when a letter, purporting to be from the 'Mercedes Killer', who deliberately mowed the high-end car into a crowd, killing eight and seriously injuring dozens more, arrives in the mail.

The case was a big one that Hodges failed to solve before leaving the force. The letter -writer obviously knows a lot about Hodges and his state of mind, as he very subtly encourages Hodges to take his own life. The letter has the opposite effect, as Hodges gets out of his chair and sets about finding the "random bundle of homicide" that is Mr Mercedes.

Soon Hodges meets Janelle 'Janey' Patterson, whose older sister Olivia's stolen car
was the one used by Mr Mercedes.

Olivia always claimed the car was locked but the investigators were convinced she left the keys in the ignition. After becoming a public hate figure Olivia committed suicide. Janey wants to vindicate her dead sister and hires Hodges to investigate.

King lets the reader know early on who the elusive killer is. Brady Hartsfield is an obviously highly intelligent man yet he's stuck in two dead-end jobs - peddling discounted electronics in a store that is quickly becoming obsolete and selling ice creams from a van.

Somewhat predictably he lives with his mother, an alcoholic who "once, in a rare moment of self-appraisal, …told him she didn't go out to the bars because they were full of drunks just like her."

While Brady still living at home may be a cliche he is no standard cold calculating psychopath, far more frighteningly he is, despite his past and planned atrocities, a 'there for the grace of God' character.

King reveals Brady's story very gradually - one that is by turns chilling, heart- breaking and a very subtle, but nonetheless damning, indictment of modern American society.

Mr Mercedes has every-thing a good thriller should - a great fast-moving plot, well-rounded utterly believable characters and taut, at times hilarious, prose. The frantic finale is real miss-your-bus-stop stuff. You have been warned.

Anne Marie Scanlon

Sunday Independent

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