Finders Keepers

The second book in the ‘Mr Mercedes’ series.  The arch-villain Brady Hartsfield, aka Mr Mercedes, has only a minor role in this book, though his ominous presence suggests he will have a more significant part in the next book.  Retired detective Bill Hodges and his unlikely sidekicks Holly and Jerome make a reappearance, and together the three eventually bring the horrific story to a satisfactory dramatic conclusion.

There is an important theme running through the book, which deals with various aspects of fiction and the writer’s life.  Two of the characters – the villain Morris Bellamy and a teenager, Peter Saubers, who finds his cache of stolen notebooks and cash – are to a greater or lesser extent obsessed with the work of a great American novelist.  The fictional John Rothstein seems to hint at the real-life authors John Updike, Philip Roth and Saul Bellow, though all three are also mentioned in the text.  Pete comes to realise that real people are more important than fiction.  This is a distinction that Morris, throughout his life, fails to make.

This theme is explored, convincingly if superficially, through the face-off that eventually and inevitably comes about between these two.  Aside from this, King also sheds light on various aspects of the reader’s life, most notably in a passage where he describes the huge impact that an English literature teacher has on Pete’s approach to reading, when he first meets the students in their sophomore year (age 15).

One  passage stands out for me, and although it is not significant to the story, it seems to me that it is very important to King.  Perhaps he had a teacher like Mr Ricker; or perhaps Mr Ricker is the teacher that King himself tried to be, before he became a full-time writer.  The passage (starting on p.83 in my Kindle edition) begins like this:

On the first day of sophomore English, he blew in like a cool breeze, welcomed them, and then printed something on the board that Pete Saubers never forgot:

This is stupid

“What do you make of this, ladies and gentlemen?” he asked.  “What on earth can it mean?”

He goes on to explain that this is a verdict often given by young readers obliged to read material they are not yet mature enough to understand or appreciate.  He goes on to tell them:

“Even some of the antiquities to which you feel you cannot relate now or ever will, have deep resonance that will eventually reveal itself…. Time is the answer.  Time mercilessly culls away the is-stupid from the not-stupid.”

He goes on to quote from Wilfred Owen’s poem Dulce et decorum est, and urges his pupils to consider that even if they think the poem is stupid now, they will most probably come back to it.

“For some of you it will recur. And recur. And recur.  Each time it does, the steady march of your maturity will deepen its resonance.  Each time that poem steals back into your mind, it will seem a little less stupid and a little more vital.  A little more important. Until it shines, young ladies and gentlemen.  Until it shines.”

I don’t believe I had a teacher like Mr Ricker; but I have found though my own experience that reading is a journey and an adventure.  This is probably why I enjoy it so much!

Mr Mercedes

by Stephen King

What can I say?  Stephen King writes so well, and yes, some of what he writes is almost too gruesome to imagine as a reader – and you wonder how a writer could ever have imagined it.  But there is so much more to King’s writing than just horror.

The events of this novel are almost believable – which of course makes it all the more scary.  Mr Mercedes is a killer who causes death, injury and panic by driving a car into a defenceless crowd gathered at a stadium to apply for jobs during the 2008-9 recession.  he is widely assumed to have died himself in the incident.  But he stalks a retired detective electronically, and so the chase begins…

This is the first in a series of three books featuring some of the same characters.  I will take my time before reading the other two.  There is a lot more of King’s back catalogue to be savoured!

The Stand

by Stephen King

Many people have rated this Stephen King’s best novel. I was intrigued to find out why, so I set out to read it over Christmas and New Year.

The characters are interesting and very well drawn. Unlike many of King’s novels, there is no one central character, but a cast of several characters whose ‘back stories’ are cleverly developed in this massively long novel (I read the 1990 extended version). The back stories of these characters add to the story and the reader’s overall enjoyment.

The plot is a real page-turner, as with most of King’s novels. There are baddies and goodies, a demonic arch-baddy who appears to have supernatural powers and an unlikely spiritual leader of the ‘good’ side. The heroic characters have flaws, and they develop as the story progresses.

Unlike many of King’s novels, whose geographical setting is entirely or predominantly in Maine, this story ranges over wide areas of the USA, both in elaborating the back stories and, more especially, in the ‘road trip’ elements constitute large chunks of the story: first, as the survivors of the cataclysmic event battle their way towards their goal communities, and in the last few chapters as the survivors of the ‘stand’ struggle back towards the community they have helped to form.

The novel tackles the subjects of faith, good and evil, the breakdown and formation of societies, social responsibility … to name just a few of the ‘big’ themes that sit alongside the personal, direct minutiae of daily life that King is able to paint so convincingly.

Is it my favourite Stephen King novel? It’s too early to say; I have only read four of his novels plus some short stories. But I was not disappointed in this one.

In the Tall Grass

by Joe Hill and Stephen King

Joe Hill is Stepehn King’s son. How do you write a short story collaboratively? One suspects that Hill wrote most of it, and King provided editorial input and a name that would ensure sales. Certainly I was convinced – and intrigued- enough to part with 99p.

The story is very much in King’s style, in terms of plot: creepy and gory. It moves along at a good pace. The main characters are lightly deawn but still come to life, and they have a back story as well as an unusually close brother-sister relationship.  The setting is a field alongside a highway through a remote part of Kansas. Could be anywhere, really, and thus the reader’s imagination is set free.

This is a very readable story. Will I be seeking out other works by Joe Hill? I suspect not, or at least, not before I have done more justice to King’s back catalogue.

Bag of Bones

by Stephen King

I picked this up on holiday and, as is usually the case with King’s books, couldn’t stop reading it. His writing is so good that I will happily read anything of his. That said, I was quite relieved to read other reviews that suggested this is not as gory as some of his other books (though it does have its moments!).

This is a ghost story, on one level, and a story of compassion and courage on another. It is only towards the end that the reader learns of the violent act that sets the ghostly goings-on – and the desperate actions of the guilty – in motion. It is also a story that explores with sensitivity the variety of effects of grief, and in this sense it bears some similarity with Lisey’s Story, written eight years later. The extraordinary power of love within a marriage is given voice here, as it is in the later story.