Mr. Mercedes is the 57th novel by workhorse author Stephen King and the first in the Bill Hodges Trilogy.
The book opens in the midst of the economic crisis as desperate job seekers wait in a closely packed line for the opening of a job fair. Out of the early morning fog emerges a luxury 12 cylinder Mercedes SL500. It barrels into the crowd, killing eight and harming many more. The metaphor of the rich trampling the poor is blunt but powerful.
Jump forward and recently retired detective Bill Hodges is overweight, divorced and suicidal. As he watches mindless TV and absentmindedly pats his father’s gun, a taunting letter from ‘Mr. Mercedes’, the at-large killer responsible for the massacre, arrives in Hodges mail. With renewed purpose Hodges enters a cat and mouse game with Mr. Mercedes, as he works to identify the killer and prevent a second massacre.
Fans of King should be under no illusions; this is a straight up hard-boiled detective novel with a modern twist. There are none of the supernatural elements typically present in King’s novels here. However, that is not to say there is not evil, only that the evil is not ghosts or ghouls – it is the secret killer lurking in the average man we pass on the street. In many ways the evil we know is more terrifying than that dreamt up in our imaginations.
In this case the evil is in the form of computer repair man Brady Hartsfield. The reveal of Hartsfield as Mr. Mercedes in the beginning of the story allows King to spend much of the novel taking the reader on a disturbing tour of Hartsfield’s dark and malicious mind, his traumatic past and disturbing relationship with his mother. King has a lot of fun here.
Hodges is instantly likeable, if not slightly clichéd as the gruff detective operating outside the law and assisted by a motley crew of associates. Cliché however, is something King purposefully plays up to. From the killer with mother issues to the Humphrey Bogart like fedora that Hodges adopts; King is tipping his hat to the much loved elements that make the hardboiled detective story a genre in itself.
I was interested by the first chapter, intrigued by the second, and hooked by the third. From then on the book chugs along at a steady pace as clues unravel and the internal tension in Hartsfield begins to build. I highly recommend listening to the excellently narrated audiobook by Will Patton. Patton lends a perfect voice to Hodges and brings to life the characters that King always excels at creating.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆