Review: Mr Mercedes – new from Stephen King

Everyone, whether you read a lot or not, will  know the name Stephen King. Whether it’s for his books or the movie adaptations, everyone will have heard of him.

Everyone, whether you read a lot or not, will  know the name Stephen King. Whether it’s for his books or the movie adaptations, everyone will have heard of him. Now, I used to be a big fan of Stephen King and, I suppose in many respects, I still am.  
Great expectations
However, after reading his latest two novels, Dr Sleep and Mr Mercedes, I had to ask myself whether or not I still regard Stephen King as a great author, or if his talent for writing a gripping novel has faded away. Dr Sleep was the long awaited sequel to probably the most widely known Stephen King novel, The Shining, which is also known for the film adaptation directed by Stanley Kubrick.
The whole film versus the novel argument has already been argued countless times, but I’ll just say I enjoy both for their respective merits. So, for me and I’m guessing a lot of other people too, the novel had a lot to live up to and it truly failed to live up these expectations. It wasn’t by any means and awful novel, but it was just really forgettable. 
Mr Mercedes 
This brings me to King’s newest novel, Mr Mercedes, which is a not a typical Stephen King novel by any means. It replaces the supernatural and horror for a more straight forward crime/thriller narrative. Whilst King isn’t exactly new to writing crime novels, both The Colorado Kid and the more recent Joyland were published by Hard Case Crime. Mr Mercedes, on the other hand, is the first sole crime novel and it completely ignores any supernatural elements. 
The plot of the novel sounds quite promising, a lone driver ploughs through a crowd of people at a job fair killing eight people and injuring several others, and the killer is never found. A year later the retired Detective Bill Hodges (who was in charge of the primary investigation into the killings) receives a taunting letter from the killer and Hodges is drawn into high stakes cat and mouse game. 
Definitely not a must-read
Although the plot may not scream original, it certainly sounds like an exhilarating read and, for first couple of chapters, it did seem promising. Unfortunately, things quickly start to fall apart pretty early on. The main problem? The hero of the novel is meant to be a man we’re rooting for, and Bill Hodges is just not likeable. 
Another issue that runs throughout the novel is that Hodges is the only one who knows about the danger Mr Mercedes presents, and about what he’s planning. A handful of other characters find out along the way, but instead of doing the sensible thing and informing the police they just blindly follow our main hero. 
King does try to rationalise this at certain parts of the book,  but it comes off a bit weak. It could have worked if King wrote Hodges as a Captain Ahab style character, obsessed with getting revenge and therefore causing more people to be hurt.
Instead, Hodges is written as the white knight of the novel and when you look at what really happens in the book, the situations doesn’t really fit his character, making it a very frustrating to read. It is a shame because  the villain is written well and is completely unsympathetic, making a great antagonist together with an effective plot.
Unfortunately, this book could have been so much more. It’s enjoyable enough for the most part, but it’s by no means a must-read for fans of Stephen King or of fans of the crime and thriller genre.
What do you think of the book? Have your say in the comments section below.
Image: Michael Femia/Flickr