A Book Review of 'Mr Mercedes' by Stephen King
Hear the name Stephen King and what is the first thing that comes to mind? An evil clown preying on the children of a sleepy Maine town? Probably. A teenage girl with powers of telekinesis getting her own back on the high school bullies? Maybe. Detective novel? Surely not.
But this is where we find King with his novel ‘Mr Mercedes’, a good old-fashioned detective story, with more than a splash of King’s particular style and character development.
Personally, I will read anything by Stephen King, so when I came across ‘Mr Mercedes’, I picked it up regardless of it not being his usual horror fare. I wasn’t disappointed.
'Mr Mercedes' by Stephen King
I challenge you not to read this book in one breathless sitting— The Guardian
The story starts with the usual excitement expected from King. An early morning queue for a job fair turns into a blood bath written with the usual King style. He has a fantastic ability to make his characters human and three-dimensional, even in a very small amount of time, which just adds to the horror of what is about to happen.
Flash forward several years and we meet Detective Bill Hodges, a retired cop and day-time tv addict still haunted by the one case he could never solve, the ‘Mercedes Massacre’. When contacted by somebody claiming to be the mysterious killer, Hodges is pulled out of his post-retirement depression and gets himself into action trying to track down the killer. Cue a thrilling game of cat-and-mouse between Hodges and the killer which never lets up until the nail-biting climax.
King has taken to the crime thriller genre with aplomb. As you would expect, the characters all feel real and well-rounded as if they could walk out of the book. He takes a lot of the crime-writer clichés, but changes them around e.g. Hodges used to be an alcoholic detective, but has now given that up for his aforementioned tv addiction; there is the usual plotline of the attractive woman hiring the lead detective, but again King challenges this. Hodges is no Casanova and the relationship between these two characters feels fresh, not clichéd at all.
The main sidekick stays well clear of cliché too. I won’t say anymore here as I don’t want to spoil it, but they definitely add to the story and they’re not just there to be the office dogsbody.
King has changed his writing style ever so slightly for this book. Generally, I could recognise a King horror story within a few lines, but that doesn’t feel like the case with Mr Mercedes. Not that that’s a bad thing; the change is subtle and well-suited for the detective genre, rather than the horror, and as mentioned above, the character development is as good as always.
The other thing I find interesting about Mr Mercedes is the way the plot jumps between the two main antagonists. In one chapter we will be following Hodges as he tries to piece together the information, then in the next chapter we will be following the killer as he continues to play his game with Hodges. This is no whodunit, we know who the killer, Brady Hartsfield, is from pretty much the beginning, but I enjoy how this style of writing opens up the whole cat-and-mouse chase. We can see what Hodges is thinking, but we also get to look inside Brady’s head and find out what makes him tick and how he ended up the way he is.
I really enjoyed Mr Mercedes. It’s a great addition to Stephen King’s canon which I would highly recommend to any fans, but is also a fantastic standalone detective novel, suitable as an introduction to King for those more faint-hearted readers who aren’t interested in the horror stories.
Mr Mercedes TV show
Mr Mercedes has been made into a television show by the television channel Audience. It stars the fantastic Brendan Gleeson as Bill Hodges, with Harry Treadaway as Brady Hartsfield.
I haven't seen this show and I don't know how faithful it is to the novel, but as with all things King, I would recommend reading the book first.
Questions & Answers
© 2018 David