Finders Keepers is the second installment in Stephen King’s Bill Hodges/Mr Mercedes Trilogy and yet another foray for him into the crime thriller genre. I wasn’t as enamoured with Mr Mercedes as I have been with some of his other books, but it was a great, solid crime thriller which stood out within its genre, and this one met a similar standard for me.
The story starts out brilliantly; acclaimed writer John Rothstein is under attack in his own home. After immense success with his series of Jimmy Gold books, he’s been living a reclusive life in the country and hasn’t published anything in decades. But someone is unhappy with the way his famous series ended, and they’re looking for vengeance.
That person is Morris Bellamy. Morris has developed an unhealthy obsession with Rothstein’s Jimmy Gold character, and sees it as a personal insult that Rothstein took his story in the direction he did, telling him: “You created one of the greatest characters in American literature, then shit on him… A man who could do that doesn’t deserve to live.” He’s sure there must be more, and after breaking into Rothstein’s home and shooting the aging author, he gets away with a trunk of notebooks filled with fresh stories which have never before seen the light of day. “Literature was eternal and that was what was waiting for him: a lost geography as yet seen by no eye but its creator’s”. But before he has time to get stuck into the unpublished Jimmy Gold novels, Morris is arrested on an unrelated charge, and leaves his newfound treasure buried in a park near his home.
The notebooks, plus a stack of cash also taken from Rothstein’s home, are found by chance by Pete Saubers, a thirteen-year-old whose family has been on the rocks since that famous Mercedes massacre. His parents are constantly arguing about money, so when the boy finds the money he uses it the best way he knows how – to help his family. But along with the money comes the notebooks, and with those comes a price to pay.
The first part of the novel almost reads as a homage to literature. King has always dropped the occasional names of novels and nods to readers into his novels, but this one really ramps it up. As a reader, it’s always enjoyable to read about others who love reading; about the passion books can ignite and the way they can affect people’s lives. But with the character of Morris, King explores what can happen when this seemingly innocuous passion crosses the line into a dark obsession.
King flits mainly between the story of Morris and Pete as the action builds, interspersing the past with present day “He put his dirt-smeared jeans and sweatshirt in the washer, an act that would also be replicated by Pete Saubers years later,” building up to the point that Morris is released, and goes looking for the notebooks now in Pete’s possession. It’s around this point that Bill Hodges, along with Holly, Jerome and a few other minor character from Mr Mercedes are immersed back into the plot. I have to admit, looking back, I didn’t find Bill from Mr Mercedes hugely memorable , and I was kind of glad he didn’t have a star role in this novel – rather he and his new private eye business Finders Keepers, are the glue which bring the disconnected elements of the novel together and help drive it to its dramatic conclusion.
The stars of this story have to be Morris and Pete; two men at very different point in their lives, who both fall under the spell of Rothstein’s writing, but react in diversely different ways. Pete is definitely painted as the good guy – a little too much at times – whereas Morris is an out-and-out villain, although I didn’t enjoy him quite as much as the Mercedes Killer, Brady.
But while the links are tenuous between the first two novels in this trilogy, Bill’s and Brady’s presence are still acutely felt. There’s hint for a very exciting finale to bind these novels together, and, just maybe, a return to King’s classic supernatural writing.