The following is a review of the audio-book edition of Stephen King’s Mr Mercedes, a cat and mouse thriller narrated by Will Patton and first released in June 2014.
Author King and narrator Patton recently joined forces for Dr Sleep, the author’s last publication (that review can be found here), and a sequel to his classic The Shining. So I felt in safe hands as I began the latest offering from an author whose output remains as varied and engaging as ever.
Stephen King opens books well. I guess you could say that he is an expert in manipulating the ‘hook’, that magical something that draws the reader in within the first chapter and holds their interest for the remainder of the book. And Mr Mercedes utilises this ‘hook’ as well as any King novel. Picture this – it is very early morning, mist reduces vision to only a few feet and outside a job fair (this novel is set during the recent recession) job-seekers have queued to be first in line when the doors open, seeking to secure one of the few hundred jobs on offer. And from out of this mist suddenly emerges a powerful Mercedes motor car, clown-masked driver behind the wheel, which ploughs indiscriminately into those crowded close together at the front of the line, killing eight and injuring and maiming many others. This masked perpetrator was never caught.
I don’t know about you, but this opening caught me hook, line and sinker.
Moving on from this stellar opening the story jumps ahead a few years and the detective who led the hunt for the Mercedes killer, one Hodges DET RET, is now retired, overweight and contemplating suicide. But a taunting letter from Mr Mercedes arrives through his letterbox and any thoughts of suicide are banished as the retired detective finds himself reinvigorated and determined to catch the maniac who had eluded him while active. And so begins a game of cat and mouse as Hodges and Mr Mercedes mess with each others minds and lives.
The first half of Mr Mercedes is excellent, just as good as all of King’s recent books, by which I refer to 11.22.63, The Wind Through The Keyhole, Joyland and Dr Sleep. And as I’ve mentioned is all my recent King reviews – he is writing as well as he ever has. But then things, in my opinion, begin to take a bit of a turn for the worse and a rather lame, but fortunately brief, romantic interlude is followed by rather weak secondary characters, which I can only call caricatures, being elevated to leading roles in a manner that seemed scarcely believable. This made the second half of the book a let down. And I think many other King fans might agree that the book loses its way after the midway mark, it just wasn’t up to his usual high standard.
But it would be unfair to concentrate on the negatives as there is much within that is classic King, the product of a craft mastered over decades. And Hodges is not an alcoholic which was refreshing. There is as ever a strong focus on characterisation and back-story development (initially) which allows for a strong emotional attachment between the reader and characters written on the page. King also has a gift for building tension with his narrative.
Will Patton’s narration was once again very good, doing full justice to the leads of Hodges and the Mercedes Killer. He is a first rate narrator.
So my summary would be that a cracking first half is followed by a weak second. But every review is subjective and others may experience the book differently.
Recommended, but with caveats.
Mr Mercedes (unabridged) by Stephen King Narrated by Will Patton Length: 14 hours, 21 minutes Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton