Ginger Nuts of Horror
As a Stephen King fan of more than thirty years I still look forward to seeing what this continually inventive author will come up with next. This last few novels has seen King hit another very rich run of form with “Joyland”, “Revival” and the surprise sequel to “The Shining”, “Doctor Sleep” amongst my favourites. Apart from his long running fantasy sequence “The Dark Tower” King isn’t much into sequels and so this trilogy which began in 2014 with “Mr Mercedes” took King’s many fans and the publishing world by surprise. Officially known as “The Bill Hodges Trilogy” (although I don’t know anyone who calls it that) King announced very early on that it was three books to be published a year apart. “Mr Mercedes” became one of his biggest recent hits and was a very successful crossover into crime fiction which won the author the prestigious ‘Edgar Awards Best Novel’ and a ‘Dagger Awards’ nomination. Not bad for a horror writer.
Straight from the bat, it’s worth pointing out would be almost impossible to read “End of Watch” as a standalone novel, as there are too many connections to the previous books. You’ll enjoy it much more if you read them in order as they are linked from page one to the final page of “End of Watch”. Actually, if you’ve never read much King before they’re pretty good introductions as the first two books are more thriller than horror. In giving a brief recap, “Mr Mercedes” was one of King’s non-supernatural novels, but this is nothing new to his fans, some of his best novels, such as “Misery” didn’t have any supernatural shenanigans or many of his most successful and popular novellas. Brady Hartsfield steals a car (a Mercedes) and deliberately mows into a line of people waiting for a job-fayre to open. He kills many and injures even more, only disappointed that he didn’t kill more. The killer then writes and gloats to the retired detective Bill Hodges, the lynchpin of the trilogy, who accidently ropes a few of his young neighbours into the mystery and eventually forms a detective agency. As King writes from within the head of Brady Hartsfield, there is no mystery as to who the killer actually id for most of the novel, but it is a very entertaining thriller with likeable characters and a speedy pace. Brady, the killer with a suicide fixation, is a pretty great villain. But not as great as the dude who takes up the mantle in the middle book.
Stephen King isn’t one for predictability and so “Finders Keepers” isn’t exactly a sequel to “Mr Mercedes”, when did this great author ever follow the literary rule book? The main connection is Bill Hodges, who doesn’t appear until the second half of the novel and without giving too much away the shadow of Brady Hartsfield hovers over the novel as does his multiple homicide which kicked started “Mr Mercedes”. Connections to “Mr Mercedes” continue as other characters introduced were impacted by the murders and injuries which opened the previous novel. I much preferred “Finders Keepers” to its predecessor as King gives us one of his greatest villains Morris Bellamy, a man obsessed with legendary author John Rothstein who Bellamy believes has many unpublished novels which he wishes to steal and read. The novel brilliantly moves backwards in time to 1978 and has many subtle connections to the previous two books. It ends with the tiniest whiff of the supernatural…. Or does it?
“End of Watch” was the weakest part of the trilogy by far and I was a tad disappointed with it and I’m certain many other readers will be also. But each to their own. Fairly early in the novel there really is a major supernatural twist which is the main plotline for the novel, it says this in the blurb, so I’m not spoiling anything….. I struggled to swallow these supernatural happenings and found the whole book difficult to take seriously. I also wonder is King always intended a supernatural heavy final book to a trilogy which had so brilliantly played it straight? This book certainly wont be picking up any further mystery novel awards, in fact, new readers King many have picked up will soon desert him when he moves the plot into the realms as “Carrie”, “The Dead Zone” and in particular “Firestarter”, but without the fire. So the enjoyment of this book for many readers will rest on whether you are happy for Stephen King to lead you up the garden path into the realms of mass suicide, hypnotism and possessed computer consoles amongst other things. There was a tiny hint of similarity with his great novel “Cell” here (a mobile phone signal fries everyone’s brains), but that was perfectly believable as it wasn’t thrown as a curveball late into the series. It might be an unfair comparison, but what if the world of ‘The Twilight Zone’ was introduced into Ian Rankin’s “Rebus” detective novels? Or any major detective series for that matter that didn’t normally live in that world? Many would shake their heads in disbelief, and I think many readers will do the same with this book.
As a page turner it was a decent read, but as a conclusion to the trilogy it was ridiculous. I found myself longing for the truly brilliant psycho Morris Bellamy of book 2, but sadly it wasn’t to be. Most of the previous characters from the other books pop up in one shape or another as retired detective Bill Hodges contends with a life threatening illness, whilst having a sneaky feeling Brady is faking and really isn’t in a vegetative stake. Of course he’s faking and through his faking we enter the world of many of his other novels.
The time shifts worked brilliantly in book 2, this wasn’t the case with this novel. As the plot reveals itself it is revealed what Mr Mercedes was really up to whilst he was absent in book 2 and Morris Bellamy was doing his brilliant nutty thing. At no point is the book scary, frightening or even mildly unsettling and one wonders whether King ran out of ideas before this pretty lame conclusion to the series. However, when you’re as prolific as King the odd book misfires and so I still hope he keeps up with his currently busy output of two novels a year and I look forward to what comes next. As I always do with this guy.