In a memorable episode of Friends, Joey keeps his copy of The Shining in the freezer because he feels safer with it hidden away. This may seem strange to anyone unfamiliar with Stephen King’s work, but those who have read the book in question will probably relate to Joey’s reaction. King is, after all, unquestionably the master of horror – his name is practically synonymous with the genre. Books like It and The Shining have given me many sleepless nights, either from the need to devour every word before putting out the light, or simply due to sheer terror (note: if you want a good night’s sleep, these books are best read on a bright, sunny summer day, not in the middle of the night during a storm!).
King’s writing at its best has a tendency to linger long after reading, his phrasing and choice of words staying viscerally in your mind. Put simply, I expect a fairly vivid emotional response when reading a Stephen King book, so on hearing that he had written a new crime novel, I was thrilled. The master of suspense, writing crime? It seems to be a match made in heaven (or perhaps somewhere less holy).Unfortunately, Mr Mercedes falls rather short of such high expectations.
Mr Mercedes begins promisingly enough, introducing retired detective Bill Hodges, whose final case – that of the Mercedes Killer – is still unsolved a year after leaving the force. When he receives a letter from the killer, Mr Mercedes himself, Hodges finds the case becoming more and more personal as he hunts down the mysterious murderer. From this point on, the plot itself is fairly standard for a crime novel, and I kept waiting for King’s trademark tension to kick in and ramp the story up a notch – but it never did. Even scenes from the point of view of the killer fell flat, the creepiness feeling forced and out of place.
As the book progresses, the story makes less and less sense. Hodges makes increasingly idiotic decisions, and the final showdown with Mr Mercedes seems completely unbelievable and unnecessary. The supporting characters sit oddly in the story and Hodges’ assistant’s “joke” jive-talking I found quite offensive – I really can’t think of a single reason why King wrote his dialogue in this way.
Perhaps, with lower expectations, Mr Mercedes could have been an okay read, but I expect more from Stephen King. He may be the master of horror, but he isn’t the master of crime – yet.