I am a huge fan of Stephen King’s books. As much as I love his out and out horror novels and his fantasy and science fiction tales, I have a real soft spot for his works that examine everyday relationships. From the friendship of Red and Andy in Shawshank Redemption to the character study of boys on the cusp of manhood in Stand by Me (both stories from the exceptional Different Seasons), King excels at characterisation and the study of human nature.
This vein of storytelling is one of the things that attracted me to Mr Mercedes. The novel tells the story of Bill Hodges, a retired cop, tormented by ‘the Mercedes massacre ‘, a case he never solved, and Brady Hartsfield; computer engineer, driver of an ice cream van, and perpetrator of that notorious crime. When Mr Mercedes comes back onto Hodges’ radar, a cat and mouse chase ensues against a ticking clock; however it’s not clear who is the cat and who is the mouse.
The opening scene of Mr Mercedes is one of the most disturbing I have ever read; it is perfectly crafted by King to rip your heart out of your chest and then stomp on it. This scene completely sets the tone for the rest of the book. With such an emotional and graphic foundation to build upon, it is impossible not to feel invested in the fates of the novels two leads. Brady Hartsfield, in particular, captivated me. He is a remarkable and fascinating character, and although I felt repulsed by him, I also found myself engrossed with how his fictional mind worked.
Whilst many detective novels are black and white, Mr Mercedes doesn’t follow this set up. It is standard to see a retired cop obsess over the perpetrator that eludes them, however, King also illustrates how much Brady craves attention from Hodges. This really is the study of a relationship were each participant is consumed by the other. In addition to this, King also refuses to only show the flaws of his villain. As the novel progresses, Hodges’ eyes are opened to his own faults and he realises mistakes he has made in his past.
Whilst Hodges and Brady are two wonderfully crafted and superbly engaging characters, King also spends time fleshing out the supporting cast. Holly, one of Bill’s sidekicks, for example, is such an intriguing character; she’s a bit of a walking contradiction, people often treat her as simple when really she is highly intelligent and sharp as a tack.
Mr Mercedes is another gripping tale from not only one of the best storytellers of our generation but one of the best storytellers of all time. This time, however, his story shows that real monsters don’t have to be fantastical or have science fiction origins, instead they can lurk behind the cheery chime of your local ice cream van; Mr Mercedes will have your heart pounding long after you reach its thrilling conclusion.