Ali Karim is a Board Member of Bouchercon [The World Crime & Mystery Convention] and co-chaired programming for Bouchercon Raleigh, North Carolina in 2015. He is Assistant Editor of Shots eZine, British correspondent for The Rap Sheet and writes and reviews for many US magazines & Ezines.
Never one to be constrained by the confines of genre, King’s latest novel is a ‘full-on’ detective thriller, the clue being the nod to James M Cain that opens this tale. King’s output seems to have reached a peak in terms of both quality, as well as quantity.
Last year King published the Hardcase Crime Joyland, a retro-tale set in a 1970s North Carolina theme park [with just a touch of the supernatural], as well as the long awaited sequel to The Shining, and one replete with the macabre – Dr Sleep. This year King releases two further novels. In the autumn comes Revival about which little is known at this stage, and screaming to the curb, right now, is Mr Mercedes.
When retired cop Bill Hodges finds it hard to cope with the change in life on leaving the force, with a diet of bad TV dinners, day-time TV and holding his Dad’s pistol to his mouth – he finds solace in the mystery of an unsolved case.
The one that got away, is the Mercedes killer, a madman who drove a top range SL500 into a crowd queuing for a job fair at a recession hit mid-western city, killing and maiming many, and who like the morning mist, vanished from the scene with no trace.
Though a crime thriller, Mr Mercedes is far from a ‘whodunit’, as we soon learn that Hodges’ nemesis, the driver of the Mercedes is Brady Hartfield, a disturbed young man. It seems Brady is a psychopath, who supports his alcoholic mother by working two jobs, as a computer repairman, as well as an ice-cream man, complete with a van and afternoon round. Despite the vileness of Brady Hartfield and his lack of empathy, the reader is allowed to explore his background and the tragedy of his life, which at times resembles an Oedipal-Norman-Bates type of complex.
The narrative follows a cat and mouse chase between Hodges and Brady, as a clockis set in motion, because Brady is planning an encore to his Mercedes killing, one which will have far more devastating consequences. Unable to get help in his unofficial investigation from his former Police colleagues, Hodges relies on assistance from his lover Janey Patterson’s niece [the highly strung Holly] and Hodges’ lawnmower man, Jerome both who are adept at IT and computers.
Two attractions of Mr Mercedes are firstly the vivid characterization, and nods to modern culture, and secondly the whip-lash pace of the narrative, especially the alarming closing sections as the cat and mouse game reaches breaking point.
As a best-selling novelist who is also a chronicler and observer of American popular culture, [akin to Charles Darwin who did the same with British culture in his tales of his era], it is of little surprise that the Automobile features heavily in King’s work. King has featured the American fascination with the car, with the Plymouth in Christine, the Buick From a Buick to an Eight, and the black limousine in The Regulators. With a switch from American Automobiles, Mr Mercedes features German engineering in a techno-thriller that is as aerodynamic in terms of narrative style as it is as dark as King’s imagination. And a warning for those with a weaker disposition, Mr Mercedes is very, very dark. It was amusing to read the afterward to the 2010 Stoker Awarded collection, Full Dark, No Stars, where King apologized to his ‘constant readers’ about the darkness that the stories in that novella contained [especially the homage to HP Lovecraft - ‘1922’]. It was therefore odd not to read a similar comment in the afterward to Mr Mercedes as this too is a very dark and troubling work.
To be held firmly by the hand, through this tough crime thriller by the assured narrative skill of Stephen King, makes the act of reading an event. There should have been a sticker on the cover ‘no book mark required’, because Mr Mercedes is a one sitting read, and in its wake we now face the long wait for Revival come autumn or fall if you'd prefer.