I’ve loved Stephen King’s books since 1976, and his work gets better all the time. Mr. Mercedes marks his debut within the mystery and detective fiction genre. Retired detective Bill Hodges lives alone; his wife left him a long time ago, and his daughter is grown and flown, living an adult life that rarely includes him. He’s watching too many game shows and eating too much crap. Now and then he fondles his old weapon and contemplates putting it into his mouth and pulling the trigger.
His life changes dramatically when the social misfit and mass killer he had been tracking when he retired, sends him a love letter. Actually it’s a taunt. It is sent to him at his house, and so it feels even more personal. Because his life needs purpose and the Mercedes killer has provided it, he decides against contacting his old partner and letting the local cops take charge, at least not yet. At one point he reconsiders, but his former colleague is in the midst of an enormous celebration after having solved another difficult, long term case, and when it becomes clear that even if law enforcement were notified, it would not be available in a timely, sober fashion, Bill sets off on his own again, a lone cowboy in the contemporary Midwestern USA, aided only by his friendly yard helper and computer geek, along with a relative of one of the deceased persons from the Mercedes killing spree.
When I lay it out this way, it looks so implausible. You’ve got to be kidding, right? A retired cop and a couple of young civilians will somehow solve a mass murder, and their only edge is to be had from a taunting letter, followed up by a few more taunts online? No way.
But what excellent writers have taught me over the years is that a strong writer can make me believe anything, and a poor one can’t convince me of much. And indeed, if King has made me believe there are haunted cars, haunted dogs, and crazed clowns that live in the sewers, why then should he not convince me that this trio can solve a big-deal crime?
Of course he can!
I was fortunate enough to get this award-winning, coveted jewel of a book at the Seattle Public Library, my friends in literature, but if I had had to ask for it as a Mother’s Day gift, I was prepared to do so. And so should you, if you like a good mystery here and there. Especially here.
Because when Stephen King spins his web, all of us fly in to hear what he has to say. How can we do otherwise?