Stephen King’s foray into crime fiction reverts back to his standard paranormal fare in End of Watch, the third and final novel of the Bill Hodges trilogy
Following the events of Mr Mercedes, the thrilling and tense introduction to the series, and its solid sequel Finders Keepers, End of Watch finds retired detective Bill Hodges back on the beat as a private investigator, along with his partner Holly. When a spate of suicides sweep among the surviving victims of Brady Hartsfield – the ‘Mercedes Killer’ of the first novel, Hodges’ suspicions are aroused and Brady is yet again in his sights.
Hartsfield however, has been hospitalised in a near comatose state for the past 5 years, after a blow to his head by Holly with Hodges’ ‘happy slapper’ – a sock filled with ball bearings. As a result, Hartsfield can barely talk let alone convince his victims to commit suicide … or can he? As it turns out, Hartsfield’s doctor has been trialling an experimental drug, which has caused Hartsfield to develop the powers of telekinesis and mind control.
Sound far-fetched? – It is.
Of course these kind of paranormal themes are standard tools of the trade for King, dating back to his first novel about a teenage outcast with telekinesis in Carrie. The problem is that it feels so out of place here, in what until now has been a grounded in reality crime series.
One of the reasons I was so excited about Mr Mercedes is that is seemed like a break from King’s usual supernatural horror and fantasy and an opportunity for King to apply his skills to a new genre of hardboiled detective fiction – if only for three books. However, the plot of End of Watch, (which involves Hartsfield using mind-controlled agents from the hospital to disseminate retro game consoles with hypnotic effects to his victims and in turn allowing Hartsfield to enter their consciousness) comes across as unbelievable and feels like King was struggling for an idea on how to end the series.
The hard to swallow plot also has the effect of bogging down much of the novel. It’s as if King was aware of the absurdity of it all and took extra steps to laboriously explain and detail how Hartsfield’s powers came about and were put into effect. Among this are constant and unnecessary flashbacks to the events of the first novel, the grand effect of which is that the ball doesn’t really begin rolling until well past the half-way mark. Compare this with Mr Mercedes where Hodges’ is on the scent and unravelling the clues from chapter one.
The upshot of End of Watch is that it is more time spent with its fantastic characters. Writing rounded and enjoyable characters is where King excels the most and the Hodges’ trilogy is a perfect example of this. Whereas Hodges, Holly and Jerome were notably absent for much of Finders Keepers, the whole gang is back to see out the final instalment. Side characters such as Pete Huntly feature prominently and minor characters of the first two books also make pleasant cameos.
If you are a fan of the series so far, you may be disappointed with End of Watch and the direction it takes, however it is still worth reading for the sake of the ultimate climax to the trilogy, which is a satisfying and touching send-off for the well-developed characters of the series.