Stephen King has been thrilling readers for four decades, ever since the 1974 publication of Carrie. So it’s particularly remarkable that such a long-lived (and prolific) writer can still generate buzz for doing something different. But that’s exactly what’s happening with King’s 51st novel, Mr. Mercedes, which is being billed as his first “hard-boiled detective tale.”
While diehard King fans might question the accuracy of this statement—he’s written two murder mysteries for Hard Case Crime—Mr. Mercedes is the first of King’s novels to star an actual detective. Well, a retired detective, that is. Since his last day at his Midwestern police department several months ago, Bill Hodges has been stuck in a gray world of mild depression, daytime TV and too many snack foods. That changes when a letter arrives from someone who describes himself as “the perk” of Hodges’ most deadly unsolved case. The Mercedes Killer ran over dozens of people waiting in line for a job fair. Eight people died, including an infant—or nine, if you want to count the owner of the stolen Mercedes, who blamed herself for the accident and committed suicide a few months later. Oh, and the killer says he plans to strike again.
With the help of his brainy teenaged neighbor and the victim's bereaved sister, a retired detective embarks on a dangerous investigation.
Instead of sharing the letter with his friends on the force, Hodges decides he’s the man to close this cold case. With the help of his brainy teenaged neighbor and the Mercedes owner’s bereaved sister, he embarks on a dangerous investigation.
Over the course of his career, King has taken steps away from genre with books like 11/23/63, Lisey’s Story and Under the Dome, where his signature touches of horror and magic ride alongside more complex themes. But with Mr. Mercedes, he demonstrates that he can still rock a pure genre novel like nobody’s business. Readers know the identity of the Mercedes Killer is from the start; the considerable suspense of Mr. Mercedes comes from wondering whether Hodges will discover it, too—and whether he will do so in time to save the next innocent target. (Anyone wondering whether King has gone soft will find that doubt assuaged by the number of innocent targets who are struck down in Mr. Mercedes.)
Hodges is a typical King hero: a middle-aged everyman with a good heart, a strong sense of justice and a few pithy catchphrases. He makes a stark contrast to the Mercedes Killer, a sociopath who exhibits a chilling lack of feeling for even those closest to him. While there are no big questions being asked or answered here, Mr. Mercedes is a thrilling example of King’s boundless imagination.