Review: End of Watch by Stephen King

EOWThe opening pages of Mr Mercedes found retired detective Bill Hodges contemplating suicide, driven to this low point by the sadistic ‘Mercedes Killer,’ Brady Hartfield. It makes sense then that End of Watch – the final novel in the King’s trilogy – revives this theme, and augments it to the nth degree.

Mr Mercedes and Finders Keepers flirted with the supernatural elements that have become King’s trademark – but End of Watch goes all in. Hartfield might be confined to a wheelchair, but through a variety of circumstances, he has developed psychic powers, which enable him to fulfil – or attempt to fulfil, at the very least – his destiny as the self-described ‘Suicide Prince.’ It’s up to Hodges, his Finders Keepers partner, Holly, and their pal Jerome, to stop Hartfield once and for all.

End of Watch is just as engrossing and relentless as its predecessors, though it lacks that sprinkle of magic that made Mr Mercedes and Finders Keepers true standouts. Brady’s plot doesn’t lack imagination – his progression from invalid to body-hopper is fantastic, and the manner in which he plagues teenage minds and leads them to ending their own lives is truly haunting – but the overall set-up, leading to the climactic confrontation between Hodges and Hartfield feels undercooked, and plays out predictably. This whole series has keen King play homage to, as well as deconstruct and revitalise, the conventions of the hard-boiled crime novel – its grand finale deserved something a little more spectacular, if not in scope, then at least in execution.

That aside, King’s Mercedes trilogy has been a blast, a true reading highlight from the past few years. End of Watch brings satisfactory closure, and while I’m saddened we won’t read more about Hodges and his crew, as always I’m excited for where King takes us next.

ISBN: 9781473634015
Format: Paperback
Pages: 400
Imprint: Hodder & Stoughton Ltd
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton General Division
Publish Date: 7-Jun-2016
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review – Mr Mercedes by Stephen King

MercedesYou can label Stephen King’s novels with a variety of acclaim, but pulse-pounding, white-knuckle-thrill-ride has never quite seemed appropriate for his extensive body of work. The Stand, what I consider his finest novel to date, is more enthralling than exhilarating; while The Shining is more nerve-wracking (and genuinely terrifying) than adrenaline-charged. No matter the scope of King’s plots, no matter what genre his respective novels are pigeonholed in, they’re always page-turners, and always demonstrate a level of finesse that other authors can only dream of replicating. This isn’t breaking news: King is a masterful storyteller, one of the greatest to have lived, and with MR MERCEDES he has crafted my favorite crime novel of 2014, and one that deserves to labelled as a modern classic.

Crime fiction is bursting with tropes. They’re unavoidable, but they’re malleable, and the best authors mould them and make them their playthings, and use them to their narrative’s benefit. Take the protagonist of MR MERCEDES, for example: Bill Hodges, a retired ex-cop who is circling the drain. Mandatory retirement and the loss of his badge has stripped his life of purpose; he chose the job over his family, and as such, his days are now spent watching daytime television and reminiscing on the unsolved cases he left behind. The one that haunts him most involves the Mercedes Killer, who drove into a crowd at an unemployment expo, killing eight and injuring more. Through sheer luck and circumstances rather than meticulous planning, the killer vanished. The police had no viable leads, no witnesses able to identify a suspect; they were at a dead end. And then Hodges was retired, and the case lost its relevancy with the media, and then with the department.

The Mercedes Killer is a young man named Brady Hartfield, who we’re introduced to inside the first fifty pages of the novel. He intends on breaking Hodges, the man who tried to hunt him and failed miserably, and lead the old detective to suicide. He crafts a carefully worded letter to Hodges, expecting it to send him over the edge, make him place the barrel of his revolver in his mouth and squeeze the trigger. Instead, Hodges is reinvigorated by the reappearance of the Mercedes Killer, and he begins a private investigation. Infuriated, the Mercedes Killer plans another act of random terror – and so begins a cat-and-mouse chase, hero versus villain, with twists and turns along the way.

MR MERCEDES moves quickly. It’s a thriller, eloquently narrated with King’s trademark prose. There are no supernatural elements on show here; there is no dark force of nature at work. MR MERCEDES is an examination of two sides of the fence, hero and villain, and their respective motivations. Sick and twisted as Hartfield’s are, Hodges’s mentality is similarly questionable (though not to the same degree): he should hand over his information to the proper authorities, who would have a better handle on the situation, but he is blinded by the zest he feels now that he’s ingrained in another investigation. His choices have consequences, and people die because of them.

Despite clocking in at over 400 pages, not a page, paragraph or sentence is wasted in MR MERCEDES. It’s a fast read despite its enormity, and one I’m destined to return to in the years that follow; the highest praise I can bestow upon a novel. Now, bring on November, and King’s fourth novel in the space of two years: REVIVAL.