Mr. Mercedes: King crafts a superbly natural crime thriller

Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King horror book reviewsMr. Mercedes by Stephen King

Stephen King stays away from the supernatural and explores a more Earth-bound and human-centric kind of horror in Mr. Mercedes, the first in a trilogy, which will conclude with the spring 2016 release of End of Watch. The story hits upon a type of tragedy that’s made real-world headlines in the last few years: an out of control car (naturally, a Mercedes) mows down pedestrians standing in a group, caught by surprise, and without any chance of escape. While many of these real-life incidents appear accidental, the deaths in King’s story are quite intentional and murderous.

A year after the crime, the lead Detective on the case, Bill Hodges, has retired without capturing the notorious Mr. Mercedes. Hodges receives a letter, supposedly from the killer, taunting him back onto the case. Mr. Mercedes chillingly writes,

Most people are fitted with Lead Boots when they are just little kids and have to wear them all their lives. These Lead Boots are called a CONSCIENCE. I have none, so I can soar high above the heads of the Normal Crowd.

And from there, we’re off to the races.

The story is rife with the evocative and foretelling-imbued prose I’ve come to love and expect from King:

Shortly before five A.M., Augi roused from his own half-doze, stamped his feet to wake them up, and realized an unpleasant iron light had crept into the air. It was the furthest thing in the world from the rosy-fingered dawn of poetry and old Technicolor movies; this was an anti-dawn, damp and as pale as the cheek of a day-old corpse.

Per usual, King’s pace is fast and the plot is tight. He’s able to create attractive personalities with minimal words. Detective Hodges is three-dimensional without being clichéd. Mr. Mercedes is cold-hearted, but complex, and Kings carves him out of multi-layered backstory. King is very good with broken people, and one of the most broken in Mr. Mercedes is Holly Gibney, a middle-aged woman so wracked with anxiety that she’s more child than woman. She plays a key, but relatively small part, making her first appearance about mid-way through the story. My only wish was for her to receive more print.

The story is terrific, and the writing superb, earning a Goodreads Choice Award for Mystery & Thriller in 2014 and an Edgar Award for Best Novel in 2015. Stephen King’s stories are a bit notorious for their weak endings, but Mr. Mercedes satisfies. And while this is the first in a trilogy, the novel stands completely on its own.

Published in 2014. WINNER OF THE 2015 EDGAR AWARD FOR BEST NOVEL In a mega-stakes, high-suspense race against time, three of the most unlikely and winning heroes Stephen King has ever created try to stop a lone killer from blowing up thousands. In the frigid pre-dawn hours, in a distressed Midwestern city, hundreds of desperate unemployed folks are lined up for a spot at a job fair. Without warning, a lone driver plows through the crowd in a stolen Mercedes, running over the innocent, backing up, and charging again. Eight people are killed; fifteen are wounded. The killer escapes. In another part of town, months later, a retired cop named Bill Hodges is still haunted by the unsolved crime. When he gets a crazed letter from someone who self-identifies as the “perk” and threatens an even more diabolical attack, Hodges wakes up from his depressed and vacant retirement, hell-bent on preventing another tragedy. Brady Hartsfield lives with his alcoholic mother in the house where he was born. He loved the feel of death under the wheels of the Mercedes, and he wants that rush again. Only Bill Hodges, with a couple of highly unlikely allies, can apprehend the killer before he strikes again. And they have no time to lose, because Brady’s next mission, if it succeeds, will kill or maim thousands. Mr. Mercedes is a war between good and evil, from the master of suspense whose insight into the mind of this obsessed, insane killer is chilling and unforgettable.

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JASON GOLOMB, on our staff from September 2015 to November 2018, graduated with a degree in Communications from Boston University in 1992, and an M.B.A. from Marymount University in 2005. His passion for ice hockey led to jobs in minor league hockey in Baltimore and Fort Worth, before he returned to his home in the D.C. metro area where he worked for America Online. His next step was National Geographic, which led to an obsession with all things Inca, Aztec and Ancient Rome. But his first loves remain SciFi and Horror, balanced with a healthy dose of Historical Fiction.

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3 comments

  1. I have liked King’s new direction, with less supernatural ooga-booga-ness and more psychological horror. I really enjoyed JOYLAND (it did have ghosts) so I imagine I’d like this one.

  2. Kings’s stories absolutely have a reputation for “weak endings,” as you say — and I do wish his editors would be a little braver when it comes to controlling the length of his novels in recent years. But this does sound interesting, and I hope you’ll let us know if the rest of the trilogy is as enjoyable!

  3. Well, the second one is just as good. There’s some suggestion of the ‘oog-booga-ness’ as Marion calls out in the second, and there will undeniably be some telepathic activity in the conclusion of the trilogy.

    Mr. King can’t help himself. :-)

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