Mr Mercedes is dubbed as Stephen King’s first ‘hard boiled crime’ novel. I enjoy crime and I love Stephen King’s work, so I was very excited to give it a try. It didn’t disappoint for me; the combination of King’s skillful prose, a classic cat-and-mouse chase and realistic, creepy characters was brilliant. In some ways, King doesn’t do anything particularly special or original here, Mr Mercedes is just a gripping, well written crime thriller. But there’s nothing wrong with that.
Having said that, the premise is a little different to your standard thriller. The story opens in the small hours before a job fair is due to take place at a local stadium. Hundreds of local unemployed are queuing up through the night for a chance of one of the supposedly ‘1000 jobs guaranteed’ the fair advertises. We join the queue with Augie Odenkirk, a kindly man who quickly befriends a single mother who is waiting with her young baby. Within minutes of reading, they are dead. Thanks to the Mercedes Killer.
As hundreds of recession victims patiently wait, a sleek Mercedes cruises into the car park but, instead of parking, he proceeds to plough through the crowd, killing eight people and injuring more. He is named Mr Mercedes by the papers. But he is never caught.
Bill Hodges worked the Mr Mercedes case as a police officer, but retired before the killer was ever identified. We meet Bill when he is low and lonely; with no family around him he spends his days watching daytime TV, drinkingcheap beers, and toying with his gun contemplating ending it all. Until he receives a letter from a man who claims to be the Mercedes killer, who gloats over his triumph, taunting Bill with details which only an insider could know. Could it be the real deal? Trying to find out and track the writer down gives Bill a new reason to carry on living.
From the off, it’s no secret to the reader who the Mercedes killer is. We are quickly introduced to Brady Hartfield, a man who seems innocent enough but a plethora of hate and venom bubbles underneath the surface. Brady works two jobs, both of which allow him get around the area and get to know it’s residents – hiding in plain sight. He lives with his Mom and the two of them are a bit too close for comfort – a relationship which I found quite disturbing at times.
I sometimes find knowing the killer from the outset a little annoying in this type of novel, but it didn’t hinder the story of Mr Mercedes at all. Alternating from Bill’s and Brady’s narratives, King ramps up the tension as Bill and two fantastic sidekicks work against the clock, trying to track Brady down and stop him before he strikes again.
Although Mr Mercedes contains no supernatural elements, it still retains that chilling, creepy atmosphere which earned King his reputation. His portrayal of of twisted, psychopathic loner Brady is so good it’s uncomfortable to read at times. You’ll keep on reading, just to see if he gets his comeuppance.
There are some down points though, particularly an unrealistically instant love between two people who are old enough to know better. I’ve enjoyed the romantic elements in some of King’s other books, such as 11.22.63 but this one didn’t engage me at all. There is also a small littering of typos and errors throughout the book. Frustrated by this, I Googled it to see if anyone else had struggled with this problem and discovered that King has a section set up on his website for users to report errors found in all his novels, so I took it upon myself to do so. It’s not very impressive that one of the most successful authors of the time and his editors are essentially allowing his readers to do some of the proofreading work, but it didn’t detract from the novel too much for me.