Finders Keepers – by Stephen King
Bill Hodges is back in Stephen King’s latest novel and sequel to last year’s detective thriller Mr. Mercedes (you can find my review here).
Much like King’s iconic novel Misery, where an author is kidnapped by an his ‘no. 1 fan’, Finders Keepers explores the unhealthy relationship of an author and an obsessive reader.
The writer here is John Rothstein, the creator of the iconic Runner series, who, in a J.D Salinger fashion achieved literary royalty and disappeared from the public eye as a reclusive genius. The obsessive reader goes to Morris Bellamy, the ‘red-lipped’ selfish and self-righteous teen, who grows into a vile man. Bellamy becomes obsessed with the Runner series, finding a deep connection with the the first two books where protagonist Jimmy Gold leaves home in a Holden Caulfield fashion, fueled on teenage angst. Bellamy however, despises the third novel in the series which ends with Gold working in an advertising agency and ‘chasing the golden buck’; and like Misery‘s Anne Wilkes, Bellamy feels a deep sense of personal betrayal by the author.
Based on rumors that Rothstein, now in his 80’s, continues to write everyday, Bellamy breaks into Rothstein’s home with two accomplices. He kills his idol and steals a safe filled with cash and 150 notebooks containing the last two unpublished Jimmy Gold novels detailing Gold’s redemption from his pursuit of consumer America. Bellamy disposes of his associates and takes the notebooks and cash for himself, burying them under a tree near his house. However, before Bellamy is able to read the novels, he is arrested and convicted of an unrelated, but heinous crime and is sentenced to life in prison. 40 years later and high school student Tom Saubers, is living in Bellamy’s old home when he stumbles upon the buried cash and literary artifacts. Saubers, himself a Rothstein fan, keeps the notebooks and uses the cash to help his family who have been struggling to stay afloat since Tom’s father was injured in the jobs-fare massacre by the Mercedes killer – a nice connection to the first book. Bellamy, now in his late 50’s, is released on parole and goes in search of his precious notebooks – cue the inevitable clash between Bellamy and Saubers and the need for Hodges’ assistance.
Finders Keepers may be the second novel in the Bill Hodges trilogy, but it isn’t Hodges’ story. This Tom Sauber’s book, and the cat and mouse game this time around is between Saubers and Bellamy, with Hodges really being just a sideline character. In fact Hodges doesn’t enter the picture until half way into the book. By the time he does get involved the plot is already well on its way to the climax and he doesn’t have a whole lot to do. A bit disappointing for those who were expecting some more of Hodges’ detective sleuthing.
However once Hodges and his associates are thrown into the mystery they stick around, and it is enjoyable to be back with the team. Holly is now working for Hodges’ private investigation and crook catching business and Jerome, now a Harvard man, is on break and keen to help Hodges with his latest mystery. Holly is likable with her idiosyncrasies and encyclopedic knowledge of movies. Jerome too is loved by all the book, and the reader might love him too if Jerome, being black, stopped transitioning to his character ‘Jerome feel-good delight’ who refers to ‘Massa Hodges‘ and speaks like the slave Jim from Huck Finn (“Dis here black boy goan tote dat barge an’ lift dat bale, Massa Hodges!”). King should take the advice of his own characters who tell Jerome that it is ‘getting old’ and drop it for the third novel. Hodges himself is content catching crooks with the help of his Happy Slapper, (a sock filled with ball bearings), however like Bellamy, he too harbors his own unhealthy, obsession: Brady Hartsfield, the Mercedes Killer Hodges prevented from committing a second massacre in the first novel. Hartsfield is a permanent mental hospital resident after a blow to the head from the Happy Slapper left him in a near catatonic state. Hodges visits Hartsfield at least once a week, taunting him and trying to provoke any kind of response. These visits were excellently tense and opened the door for an unexpected avenue for the third book. I will say no more.
Finders Keepers definitely feels like the middle book in a series. It is not as fast paced as Mr.Mercedes and it doesn’t reach any finite conclusions for Hodges and his team. It does however, have a much thicker and unique plot, and while not as initially attention grabbing as Mr.Mercedes, King is still able to expertly keep the pages turning without resorting to cheap, end-of-chapter cliffhangers.
While King spends a little too much time with the villain, and not quite enough time with Hodges and the gang, fans of the first book will still enjoy Finders Keepers. The ever-lurking presence of Brady Hartsfield also builds a lot of anticipation for the third installment.
★ ★ ★ ☆☆
Finders Keepers can be purchased here.
The audiobook can be picked up here.