I can't imagine that it took Stephen King long to write Mr. Mercedes. Still a gifted and prolific writer, King produces two or three book-length projects each year, in addition to his myriad short stories, columns, and essays. Within that bunch there is usually a true gem or three, but this one is, alas, merely average.
King trots out the old chestnut of the retired cop and his daily face-off with the prospect of eating his old man's service revolver. There's a psycho whose sexist and racist tendencies just seem tired and distracting here. Yes, we understand that he doesn't like women (even his mother, who repulses him even as she relieves him of certain tensions...ick) and anyone that is different than him. By the way, he's a generically handsome young white man who is good with technology and, for some reason, hates the world.
It's like King ordered Brady Hartsfield straight out of the literary characterization catalog (probably filed under 'P' for Patterson). This is a major failing in the book, as King could have offered a glimpse into the nature of evil by going against the grain here and creating a character outside of the homogeneous tradition of sociopathic behavior. But with nothing new to offer, this just reads like another dime-store serial-killer paperback.
Hodges is similarly one-dimensional. Overweight. Obsessed. Unorthodox. Tough. He's a rhino whose subtle move is to hit perps with a sock filled with ball bearings. Sheesh...
The strangest element of the story is the plot point concerning Olivia's suicide. I'm sorry, but I just don't buy that a person whose Mercedes sedan was stolen to execute such a nefarious task would feel such enormous guilt that she would actually commit suicide.
Tragic and horrifying that someone might take a car for that purpose? Oh, certainly. I wouldn't keep the damned car, as she did--that's for sure.
But she was the victim of a crime as well. Whatever folks do with her car (and the explanation of leaving the car unlocked and having that leaked to the papers--well, it just strains credulity) after they steal it is on them. She didn't drive that car into the crowd and, as it turns out, she never left the car unlocked in the first place. Just absurd...
Mr. Mercedes is not without its charms, of course. Much of it is written in the present tense, a device King has proven exceedingly adept at executing. That's no small trick. And I really like Holly's character development, and Janelle's positive spirit. The pathos created in the opening passage, while folks assemble for a job fair in the early hours of the morning, is vintage Stephen King. Too bad the sincerity and heart captured in those opening pages wasn't sustainable throughout the remainder of the novel.
About every fifth King effort is average. This is that fifth book (put it out there with Lisey's Story and From a Buick 8 and The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon), and that's okay.
King is still hitting homers at a rate that makes him a first-ballot HOFer...