Checking out Stephen King’s End Of Watch, plus the latest books from Mark Billingham, Donna Leon, Harry Bingham, Peter Robinson and more.
Although he sometimes dabbled in the genre, Stephen King really became a crime writer in 2014 with Mr Mercedes – a nasty, supremely readable thriller about an ex-cop pursuing the psychopath who mowed down a crowd of people in a grey Mercedes SL500. King’s now completed a trilogy featuring his retired Midwestern detective Bill Hodges. In this third book, Hodges has become gaunt and sick; perhaps that title hints he won’t be coming back.
Several years after the slaughter, the ailing Hodges is still obsessed with Mr Mercedes. While a blow to the head has consigned the killer, Brady Hartsfield, to a brain injury clinic, Hodges suspects him of malingering in order to escape justice.
The sly Hartsfield has partially recovered but something’s been rewired in his brain – maybe it was Hodges’ ‘happy slapper’ (an old sock loaded with ball bearings), or the doctor experimenting with dodgy drugs from Bolivia. Although supposedly trapped inside his damaged mind, there are rumours of unexplained phenomena in Hartsfield’s hospital room: taps and lights being turned on by themselves.
Perhaps it was unrealistic to expect Stephen King to write three novels without resorting to typical horror tropes, but at least he does a decent job of knitting together the paranormal and procedural. As Hodges and his tech-savvy, socially awkward assistant Holly Gibney investigate several suspicious suicides, King heightens the suspense by switching back in time and revealing the slow stirring of this vengeful monster from his catatonic state. Hartsfield eventually concocts a murderous plan that rivals the most notorious cult leader for psychotic self-belief.
Compared to the entirely plausible motoring mayhem of Mr Mercedes, the plot to End Of Watch is as fantastic as it is elaborate – a perfect storm of telekinesis, technology and terror. Hartsfield uses his acquired mind power to control his victims like human drones, via a game gadget featuring hypnotic pink fish and Wi-fi. When Hodges warns a character to guard their thoughts, it reads like one of Dennis Wheatley’s hoary occult thrillers.
Despite the straining of credulity that might test more finicky crime readers, King never loses his grip on a narrative that leads inexorably to a final, bloody battle between good and evil in a snowbound hunting camp –look out for some stupendous gore. If End Of Watch doesn’t quite match the cat-andmouse ingenuity of the first two books, it’s still a solid send-off to the trilogy. Hopefully, it won’t be the end of King’s crime career.
“a perfect storm of telekinesis and terror”