Right around my mid-twenties I became an avid reader of Stephen King. I enjoyed many of his short stories and his novels that didn’t quite fall into the full blown horror genre. Creepy was okay, but I’ve never been a big fan of full throttle horror tales. So The Stand, The Gunslinger series, and The Green Mile are examples of the King books that I really enjoyed during that period of my life.
Then for some reason I sort of lost interest in King’s work. The last book I remember reading of his was Wolves of the Calla followed by an abortive attempt at Under the Dome. At that point his Gunslinger had really started to drag for me. I think I purchased the next book but never started it. The sheer size of Under the Dome ended up discouraging me. Work, kids, and the fact that I had started to attempt to write my own stories seriously made finishing the mega-novel impossible.
A couple months ago, several years after my last attempt at a King novel, I was talking with a co-worker and fellow detective who told me about this really good book that I just had to read. This book ended up being Mr. Mercedes. When she told me it was by Stephen King, I remember a skeptical grimace crossed my face. My co-worker saw this and reassured me I needed to try it. “It’s about a serial killer,” she said. Another wince. I’ve never been a big fan of serial killer novels. But she went on to tell me that the main character was a retired cop and kept on about how good it was. So I went for it and grabbed a copy of Mr. Mercedes.
I’m glad I did. Mr. Mercedes was a great detective novel and a lot of fun to read. For the most part King sticks to the classic detective story line but there are hints of his darker self that always come out in his writing. The story starts out with a mass killing outside a city government building when a big Mercedes plows through a crowd of people waiting in line for a job fair. From there the case goes cold and then the lead detective retires.
Mr. Mercedes is a master class in novel writing, and I was completely pulled into the story. The main character, Bill Hodges, is a classic example of a good investigator whose drive to solve the case and find the bad guy is so strong that even his own health won’t hold him back. Hodges is surrounded by an eclectic group of other characters that are each interesting and loveable in their own distinct way. As an example of investigative realism, I found that King did an amazing job of writing just enough to make the book’s investigative procedures seem real without making real world police detectives like myself scream out “That’s not how we do it!” in the middle of the book.
Mr. Mercedes is followed by Finders Keepers and then the third book in the trilogy, End of Watch, which just came out in June of this year. Finders Keepers begins with the murder of a great American author and the theft of a safe full of unseen manuscripts that the recluse has been hording for years. This case also goes cold until Hodges and his crew happen to be brought in years later to help a boy who finds a trunk of buried treasure. This was my favorite book in the series. The whole treasure trove of lost works really did it for me. End of Watch rounds out the trilogy with a return to the evil that never went away in the first book. Of the three King’s talent for writing scary stuff comes out in force and reminds you, oh yeah this is a King novel. End of Watch fully develops the earlier hints of something supernatural and evil that is only hinted at in the first two books.
Overall, I thought all three were fantastic highly entertaining reads. With these three detective novels King has found his stride with me in creating a story that make me really want to hit the keyboard with my own fiction as soon as I finished the last page of each. For me, that is the highest compliment I can give.