Anyway, I'm here today to talk about the latest novel from Stephen King, my favorite author (obviously). Here's the full American book-jacket:
Pretty neat, isn't it? I especially dig that ice cream truck - I might have to make an edit of that for this blog's banner!
You can check out the summary of the story on the book's jacket, so I'm not going to rehash that. This is a post for my initial thoughts on the story. I might come back later and edit some stuff, because my views and opinions of King novels tend to change in the time between first read and second read. Fair warning to any and all who haven't finished it yet: this might get a bit spoiler-y. I'll try to be considerate, but some stuff's gonna slip out - maybe I won't put my foot in my mouth or embarrass myself in the process, but that simply comes with the territory!
So, did I like this book? Oh, yes. I liked it a LOT.
The opening chapter is rather downbeat and pessimistic - in an unnamed city in the mid-west, out-of-work hopefuls line up for the opening of a job fair in the wee hours of the morning. While the crowd swells into the hundreds and thousands, we meet three immediately likeable people: Augie Odenkirk (what a name!), Janice Cray, and her baby Patricia. The characters are drawn with King's usual deftness and loving touch, and the reader is immediately drawn in - who are these people? Why do they not have jobs? One immediately begins to hope things turn up for all three as they interact with one another. Their thoughts about the economy are thoughts we've all had, albeit they've been hit harder by it than a lot of people, including myself. However, we truly relate to these people, and we wanna see 'em win one.
I knew before-hand what the beginning of the novel consisted of, hence why it's called Mr. Mercedes. But I didn't want it to happen to these three! In only a few pages, King illustrates these characters astoundingly, bringing them to life in the way only truly talented authors can. Surely they won't be killed. Maybe injured, but not killed. Sadly, that is not the case. Soon after we meet these people, out of the fog comes a gray Mercedes. Without any warning, it plows into the large crowd of desperadoes, killing or injuring many. That includes Augie, Janice, and Patrcia.
What an opening.
Immediately after, we are introduced to Detective Hodges, a retiree who now spends his days planted in front of daytime television, getting fat, and occasionally holding his father's gun or putting it in his mouth. He was the main detective on the Mercedes Killer case, and it was never solved. He retires soon after, only to live a life of meaninglessness. The mail arrives, and it includes a letter from said killer. "Dear Detective Hodges," it reads, "I have to tell you how much fun it was." The letter, written by the "perk", is meant to push Hodges into committing suicide, but it instead has the opposite impact - it drives Hodges to do something, which is more than he's done in quite a while. After having lunch with his old investigation partner, he begins to investigate.
Who is the "perk", anyway? That, ladies and gentlemen, is Brady Hartsfield - one of King's scariest and most effective villains. Perhaps he's so chilling because he's so . . . normal. He has two jobs - one at an electronics store and one as the ice cream man (he uses the ice cream truck as a means to spy on Hodges in the retired man's own home). His physical features are described as "ordinary" - he's someone you'd pass on the street without a second glance. Aside from the fact that he has a sexual relationship with his mother, killed his little brother when they were young children with the assistance of good 'ole Mom, used a Mercedes to run down a crowd of defenseless people, let his mom choke on her own vomit and die, and has plans to kill literally thousands of people (including himself), he's pretty much just like any average Joe.
What's most fascinating about this guy is he's crazy and he knows it. He uses that to his advantage. He's not afraid of risks, and if something he plans happens to fail . . . he doesn't really let it faze him. He's cold and calculating, and I think he might be King's scariest villain since Annie Wilkes. It might be too early to make such a statement, but that's how I feel in my gut.
Another interesting thing about the novel is the usage of technology for good and evil. In the 70s and 80s, all of King's stories that had technology as the focus (The Tommyknockers, "Trucks", "The Mangler", Maximum Overdrive) were paranoid and distrusting. Heck, even Cell and Under the Dome were like that. In recent years, however, King seems to be more willing to write about the usage of technology for good, which is fitting - his stories are like time-capsules, and we've never used technology more than we do right now. The villain uses an internet site for anonymous chatting to talk to Hodges, and that's how the two communicate. Computer and cell phone usage really help propel the story forward, and unlike in Doctor Sleep, it doesn't feel quite so intrusive - it feels much more natural. I've read some reviewers refer to this novel as a "techno-thriller", and that's a good term for it, I'd say.
So, what about the peripheral characters? Sure, the main characters are definitely Hodges and Brady, and they are the most interesting, but the other characters are worth looking at, too. I particularly like Jerome, Hodge's lawn-care boy/computer expert guy/friend (Hodges is a bit slow with technology, which I can kind of relate to!). Jerome is a near-brilliant seventeen-year-old headed for Harvard, and he has a heart of gold to boot. He might be King's best-realized African American character, if only for the fact that Jerome acknowledges he's black, isn't afraid to be self-deprecating about it, and doesn't let his skin color define him. Other characters I quite enjoyed reading about were Holly (basically an improved second-run at Amanda from Lisey's Story) and her cousin (and Hodge's love interest) Janey, who you just can't help but love. These characters are a bit two-dimensional, but that's okay with me - this novel is all about story story story! Too much character development could have very possibly ruined the book.
That's what she said.