Thursday, September 18, 2014

Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King

Many writing teachers and online mentors have recommended Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. I am one of them, and I’ve written about several of King’s novels over the years, in part because King has a sentimental place in my heart. My husband and I enjoyed talking about The Stand while sharing a picnic on a grassy knoll somewhere between wide, open wheat country and urban America. We’d spent several hours riding his BMW motorcycle from the city where we worked to a tiny place barely there. The contrasts between such places wound around to the contrasts in King’s book, and we talked and talked and talked until we had to use the headlight to see the road and hurry homeward.

We married later in the Fall, before Winter pushed the motorcycle into a garage, and we kept talking. Our lives took root, grew complicated, and King was present. His publishing dates aligned with our celebrations: Father’s Day, our birthdays in the Fall, Christmas. A new release often matched our gift-giving so we’ve acquired quite a King library for sentimental reasons.

Mirror Images in a Ford Super Deluxe 8
Al Griffin by Al Griffin Photography 

I just finished reading King's latest, Mr. Mercedes (2014), and I must recommend it, first because it fits into a niche of which I’m fond: police procedurals featuring a rumpled, case-weary detective who’s smarter than the average cop or criminal. Bill Hodges, the protagonist, is retired, and like many, isn’t sure what to do with his time. He eats too much, drinks now and then, watches more TV than anyone should, and contemplates ending it all out of sheer boredom more than deep despair.

A deranged killer rescues Hodges from his own mess by pricking both his conscience and his complacency. The killer from one of Hodges’ few unsolved cases writes a letter and lays down a challenge Hodges can’t refuse. The detective finds new life by renewing his purpose to find the man who drove a Mercedes through a crowd of people lined up for a job fair.

King delivers a sidekick in the form of Jordan, a high school boy bound for an Ivy League education. High-performing geek when he needs to be, Jordan is also a Regular Joe, full of humor and humility. He’s a man of action and daring in spite of his youth, and he’s a good son, thoughtful brother, and loyal friend to Hodges. He has all the qualities of a likable character and hero.

Eccentric, clever women are also a necessity in many crime-solving formulas, and King delivers her, too. Battered by bullying and broken signals to her brain, poor Holly proves to be invaluable in solving crimes and fighting evil. She becomes more whole by overcoming some of her own fears and protecting others more vulnerable than herself. And she completes the triumverate so often seen in books and movies where a few save the world for the rest of us. Luke, Hans, and Leia; Harry, Hermione, and Ron; Rooster Cogburn, LaBoeuf, and Mattie; even Bella, Edward, and Jacob team up to stop evil from taking root and more lives just as Hodges, Jordan and Holly do.

Although there be monsters that haunt the mind, predators that stunt the future for some, and killers that stalk those least able to defend themselves, there is little of the supernatural in this novel, and I like that. Intuition, instinct, and investigation are the powers that transform these characters.

But King must be King so he gives us a classic horror genre ending. Evil rises again and speaks. Just like in real life.

Reading Challenge:

Read Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King.

Writing Challenge:

When you’re taken to the woodshed, the best thing you can do is wait out the whipping and shut up (King 432).

Write your own advice, using the same word order as the sentence above.