Lat­est Stephen King novel a fright­en­ingly real­is­tic romp

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - BOOKS - Re­viewed by Nick Martin

IT’S re­ally, re­ally im­por­tant to re­mem­ber that Mr. Mercedes is not a tem­plate — it’s not one of those In­ter­net sites that ex­plains step-by-step how to do some­thing re­ally evil us­ing or­di­nary house­hold items. Be­cause, in choos­ing to stick to an all­too-hu­man monster for one of the very few times in a ca­reer of more than four dozen spooky nov­els, Amer­i­can au­thor Stephen King just might be putting ideas in some­one’s head. Mr. Mercedes is some of King’s best work in a long time. The novel is creepy, it’s hor­ri­fy­ing, it has en­gag­ing char­ac­ters about whom the reader will come to care — be care­ful about car­ing too much — and just when it’s ob­vi­ous what will hap­pen, King wal­lops the reader from the blind side with to­tally un­ex­pected twists. The tit­u­lar char­ac­ter com­mits mass mur­der in the novel’s first few pages and gets away with it. He will, it goes with­out say­ing, plot to do so again. Mr. Mercedes is a novel that would be ru­ined by spoil­ers. Suf­fice it to say that King re­veals the iden­tity of the killer early on; a re­tired po­lice de­tec­tive named Bill Hodges, haunted by his fail­ure to solve those mass mur­ders, spends 448 pages try­ing to track down Mr. Mercedes be­fore he kills again. People are haunted in Mr. Mercedes, though for once with King, it’s not lit­eral. There’s noth­ing su­per­nat­u­ral, noth­ing alien, no time travel or slip­ping be­tween di­men­sions in Mr. Mercedes. It’s been a long time since King has gone with noth­ing but hu­man be­ings to drive the plot, back to clas­sics such as Mis­ery — whose de­praved pro­tag­o­nist would share some psy­cho­pathic qual­i­ties with Mr. Mercedes — or Cujo, which gave us the wil­lies with a sim­ple story about a dog that got ra­bies. Nor is Hodges King’s usual hero. He’s about 25 years older than the typ­i­cal lib­eral white guy King stand-in of most of Big Steve’s work, and for once the story is not set in Maine — it’s in a dumpy Mid­west­ern city with a lousy econ­omy, which one base­ball-re­lated ref­er­ence sug­gests may be Toledo. King still has trou­ble writ­ing from in­side the heads of women and black people, though he’s get­ting slightly less cringe­wor­thy as he ages. Mr. Mercedes joins that enor­mous body of pop­u­lar cul­ture in which books would end in the sec­ond chap­ter and movies would be over in the first 15 min­utes if some­one with a shred of com­mon sense would only call the po­lice.

It’s is a grip­ping story set in a fa­mil­iar real world that will have you on edge from the very first page. But, please, keep in mind that it’s just a story. Free Press ed­u­ca­tion re­porter Nick Martin, a long­time Stephen King fan, still thinks Salem’s Lot is the au­thor’s scari­est book.

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