Mr. Mercedes

by Stephen King

“Everybody likes the ice cream man.”

“The woman says her name is Holly Gibney, but I think she’s really Sheena, Queen of the Jungle.”

“It’s as if there’s a fumble-fingered but powerful universal force at work, always trying to put wrong things right.”

One of the reasons I wanted to read Mr. Mercedes was because I heard tell of Holly Gibney, who is introduced in this book and is a character in several others of King’s works.

“I just love Holly, and I wish she were a real person. […] She just walked on in the first book she was in, Mr. Mercedes, and she more or less stole the book, and she stole my heart.”

-Stephen King

I was further encouraged because it won the Edgar Award for best novel of 2015. Unfortunately, Holly doesn’t make an appearance until halfway through, and I liked her, but I was a little underwhelmed considering the hype, including the miniseries which features her character. Just a little. I don’t think SK knew what he had with Holly Gibney until the book was almost finished. I look forward to seeing more of Holly. This was a good introduction and there is a lot of promise there. (I’m sure the great Mr. King will be relieved I think so) But I also hope Jerome and his family are in other related books because I loved them right from the get-go.

Mr. Mercedes is about the cat and mouse game between a twisted evil young man and a broken-down retired detective. The young man is Brady Hartsfield who has already committed mass murder by mowing down a group of innocents with a borrowed Mercedes.

“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.”

The old before his time “ret-det”, Bill Hodges, is so done with life that he is flirting with suicide.

“What he knows now is that guilt isn’t the only reason people commit suicide. Sometimes you can just get bored with afternoon TV.”

Brady has already driven one innocent woman connected with his heinous act to suicide and now he is targeting Bill Hodges, who was the head investigator in the murder and failed to catch him before his retirement. But Bill is wily.

Once Brady makes contact with Bill, it gives him the purpose he needed to keep living. He starts to re-investigate. Thanks to the puzzle, what he learns along the way, and a lovely woman he meets in the course of his search, he is rejuvenated. When he learns that Mr. Mercedes had a role in the death of the woman who owned the car, whom he and his partner had wrongly accused of negligence, it ups the ante. When Mr. Mercedes victimizes someone closely connected to Bill, it gets personal. Along with his young friend Jerome and the neurotic emotionally disturbed Holly, his junior detectives, he is hot on Mr. Mercedes’s trail. But will they catch him before he can commit an atrocity that will make his first mass murder look like just a prelude to the main event? I loved that the car comes full circle from a force for evil to a force for good. It just depends on who’s doing the driving.

Most of the book is told from Bill Hodges’s point of view. But it was necessary to tell some of it from Brady Hartsfield’s as well. What we learn about him and his thoughts are so gross and disgusting, it actually took away from my enjoyment of the book. Every time we had to go there, I had to force myself not to skip through those parts. But don’t worry, the dog is not harmed.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

January 9, 2022

Dr. Sleep

by Stephen King

“You want to hear a story? One I’ve never told anybody? I should warn you, it’s a weird one. If you think the shining begins and ends with paltry shit like telepathy, you’re way short.” He paused. “There are other worlds than these.”

Dan had no problem with the Higher Power thing, because he had a bit of inside information. God remained an unproven hypothesis, but he knew there really was another plane of existence. Like Abra, Dan had seen the ghostie people. So sure, God was possible. Given his glimpses of the world beyond the world, Dan thought it even likely . . . although what kind of God only sat by while shit like this played out? As if you’re the first one to ask that question, he thought.

If The Shining was Stephen King’s exploration of alcoholism, Doctor Sleep is his unblushing love-letter to Alcoholics Anonymous. For anyone with an interest in this organization, I would highly recommend this book, which provides the reader with the inside scoop on its culture. Although always appreciative and respectful, it is affectionately irreverent as well. And because of that, it is even more effective an endorsement of its methods and procedures.

In addition, it’s also a great yarn. To me though, it wasn’t really a thriller, because I never really feared for Abra, the young prey of the despicable “True Knot.”

**spoiler**

It becomes pretty obvious well before everything comes to a head that Abra, along with Dan, are just too powerful a force to be reckoned with. And the predators are in a much-weakened condition during the final confrontation. My main fear, that Abra’s friends and relatives might be collateral damage, was abated by the fact that they were far far away for most of the book. My enjoyment came not from white knuckle suspense, but reveling in the take-down of such evil. We hate them for a particularly heinous murder that is very hard to read about but comes back to take a very large bite out of them. And there are some interesting twists. I’ve read that the final pages of the story are too happy for some people, but after everything they went through, they couldn’t be happy enough for me. **end spoiler**

Another big source of fascination and enjoyment for me is King’s apparent belief in the afterlife and how this book addresses it. I fancy atheists or other cynics might be very turned off by this book.

“I’m not scared of hell. I lived a decent life, and I don’t think there is such a place, anyway. I’m scared there’s nothing.” He struggled for breath. … “There was nothing before, we all know that, so doesn’t it stand to reason that there’s nothing after?” “But there is.” Dan wiped Charlie’s face with the damp cloth. “We never really end, Charlie. I don’t know how that can be, or what it means, I only know that it is.”

Rating: 5 out of 5.

February 21, 2020

The Institute

By Stephen King

“We’ll tell you what we know, and what the orderlies and techs tell us, but I got an idea that most of it’s lies. George feels the same. Iris, now . . .” Kalisha laughed. “She’s like Agent Mulder on that X-Files show. She wants to believe.” “Believe what?” The look she gave him—both wise and sad—again made her look more like a grownup than a kid. “That this is just a little detour on the great highway of life, and everything’s going to come out all right in the end, like on Scooby-Doo.”

The Institute is one of the best books I have read in a long time. It was good to get a break from the “women’s fiction” that I have been favoring for years now. (Lately, with an occasional break with a domestic thriller!) I have read several Stephen King books, but definitely going to read more soon. Doctor Sleep is next up. This book is a typical example of what Stephen King is brilliant at: Kids in peril, tense action relieved by humor, baddies you love to hate, Stephen King’s own perspicacious insights on various and sundry interjected here and there.

As they went down the hall, Luke thought about his researches into Maureen’s problem. One horrifying statistic in particular stuck out: Americans owed over twelve trillion dollars. Money spent but not earned, just promised. A paradox only an accountant could love. While much of that debt had to do with mortgages on homes and businesses, an appreciable amount led back to those little plastic rectangles everyone kept in their purses and wallets: the oxycodone of American consumers.

And some wonderful secondary characters. In this one, Orphan Annie, Sheriff John, and to a certain extent, Deputy Wendy, stand front and center in a whole host of them. Not even including the kids.

Also, a lot of it was set in South Carolina, my home state. Although rife with southern stereotypes, it was a relief to have my state and it’s small-town residents portrayed in an overall positive light.

“Do it fast,” Annie said, “or you’re dead. This isn’t playin, boys. You’re in the south now.” They looked at each other, then put the autos carefully down on the pavement.

Yeah, I know, a bit cheesy. But I loved it.

In a nutshell, the plot is about a mysterious “Institute” where the powers in charge kidnap children who have shown some signs of Telekinesis and/or Telepathy in order to harness their powers for what they believe is a noble cause. It’s a classic case of the end justifying the means. Except the means are cruel and evil and the end is shown to be a load of bull in the end. Unfortunately for their cause, when they kidnapped Luke, our co-hero, they kidnapped the wrong boy. Because Luke is smart. Really smart.

What, exactly, was that understanding? Why, that aside from having a yard of guts, the kid also happened to be a genuine bottled-in-bond genius. These Institute thugs had taken him to obtain a talent that was (at least before its enhancement) little more than a parlor trick. They considered his brilliance a mere adjunct to what they were really after, making them like poachers willing to slaughter a twelve-thousand-pound elephant to get ninety pounds of ivory.

There are fears, cheers, and tears. Not everyone gets out unscathed or even gets out, but the ending was satisfactory. And I loved the promising ending of the first of our heroes to be introduced. 

Rating: 5 out of 5.

January 6, 2020