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!