Saturday 6 September 2014

Mr Mercedes

Long before its release, this novel was billed as Stephen King's first ever detective story. While it's good advertising, I cannot agree entirely as he'd already written a short story ("Colorado Kid"), which definitely belongs to this genre.
The first thing that immediately drew my attention was the cover. Very nicely designed with dark background and only two colorful spots. A light blue, cold umbrella and a distant red light. I couldn't help but wonder where the Mercedes or the Mr were. The cover is thought provoking and interesting, and it definitely encouraged me to start reading (as if I needed any motivation - new SK book is always good enough encouragement for me). 
The novel starts with a bang. King gives readers a chance to closely observe a massacre as a Mercedes drives into a crowd of people waiting in line for the opening of a job fair. What makes this scene even more powerful is that prior to that we get some insights into who the people are and how desperate they must be to stand there. The conversation between a man helping a young woman (who at this point seem to be the main characters) with an infant is cut abruptly...
The following investigation is led by a veteran detective, Bill Hodges. Years pass but the murderer is not found. Now retired, Hodges tries to come to terms with his "new" life and as he struggles with coming to terms with it, the thought of suicide is never far away from him. Everything changes when he receives a disturbing letter from a person claiming to be the Mercedes killer. As a retired cop, his resources are very limited. However, he can still rely on his considerable experience, intuition, and some help from two very unlikely allies.
The story takes a while to unfold and for a significant part we follow the new investigation on a linguistic level. As Hodges analyzes the letter, he reveals his impressive deductive skills. Those fragments were very well written and they nicely moved the action on and built tension without too much actually happening. What I found a bit strange though, was the protagonist's proficiency in various linguistic forms. When he finds a misleading piece of information, he calls it "red herring". It's a name I remember from my university classes on literature comprehension and it seemed a tad odd that a policeman would use it. King has a tendency to set teachers or other academics as protagonists of his novels. It is a useful trick as it gives him freedom to use very nice language to reflect his characters' thoughts, and internal monologues are often present in his works. Here it somehow felt a bit out of place but then I guess a retired, elderly detective can have a flair for linguistics. 
As Hodge's research brings him closer to the Mercedes killer, the pace of the novel quickens significantly. New characters enter the scene and the final section is really gripping, making it very hard to put the book down. 
There are some fragments in the novel that are really disturbing and reading through them was hard. Following the story from Mr Mercedes' perspective and entering his twisted mind sheds some light on his motivations. As evil as he appears, there are certain haunting events in his life that almost evoke feelings of sympathy towards the main antagonist.
I found the ending very satisfying as King not only did a good job of wrapping up all the important plotlines but he also left enough of them open to make sure there is enough space for a sequel.

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