Stephen King, the undisputed king of horror, is well knowledged in the terrors of poverty, mental illness, and early trauma and addiction are never as terrifying as the ravenous wraiths Mr. Mercedes is Stephen King’s 57th book. Although it does not involve supernatural threats, Mr. Mercedes is capable of generating fear in the reader. The plot centers around a lone detective who breaks the law regularly to get a psychopath with a long list of mental illnesses. It was initially intended to be a short narrative of only a few pages, inspired by a true story of a lady driving her car to a McDonald’s restaurant.
When a skilled mass murderer who baffles police attains out to gloat, a retired detective pondering suicide is given new life. K. William Hodges is a retired detective looking for excuses to live without the exhilaration of his old job when he has shuttered a case that he and his partner seem unable to resolve during their careers. While watching afternoon daytime television and eating a growingly unhealthy diet, Hodges’ now strenuous life is rudely interrupted when a letter falls via his mail slot. A criminal known only as the Mercedes Killer reaches out to the “Det-Ret” in a whinging, unsparing, and manipulative letter, inevitably attempting to force the retiree to commit suicide. Naturally, his letter has the reverse reaction he intended.
Hodges embarks on a long and arduous journey, reviewing the details of the old case and combing through the letter for any hints, leading to the capture of this unremorseful murderer. To unravel the progressively tangled web of the murderer’s mind, he enlists the help of his seventeen-year-old neighbor and friend Jerome. Hodges revisits people he interviewed when on the force, comprising the sister of the deceased owner of the stolen Mercedes, whose bravado and sass ensnare his mind and, ultimately, his heart. Jerome and Janey form a motley crew of investigators intent on apprehending the Mercedes Killer.
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As the reader follows Hodges on his journey to justice, we learn more about who the killer is and his motivation and mindset for his actions. He, a master of hiding in plain sight, moves in and out of the detective’s life with ease, all the while scheming new ways to bring destruction to those he despises. He resides at home with his alcoholic mother and the memory of his deceased younger brother, allowing his insane ideas to drive him ever closer to his demise. He intends to poison Jerome’s dog in the hopes of deflecting the entire investigation, but his plan fails as his drunken mother consumes the meat and dies. The Mercedes Killer afterwards embarks on a vendetta to abolish the retired detective personally using an automobile bomb that, yet again, fails his target and instead kills Janey, Hodges’ newly found love. When the killer realizes his mistake, he decides to make one final grand gesture by orchestrating a suicide bombing at a concert in the same venue where he performed his first ignominious massacre.
Hodges’ desire to apprehend the Mercedes Killer grows stronger after the death of Janey, and he, Janey’s niece Holly and Jerome embark on a more perilous journey to find and stop the killer before he harms anyone else. Using the late Mercedes owner’s computer files and the Internet, Hodges discovers that the murderer is a worker of a local computer repair company. He discovers the identities and photographs of the computer repairmen and embarks on a manhunt to detain the suspect before he causes more harm.
Jerome, filtering over the photographs of the three repairmen, eventually recognizes one of them as the driver of the nearby area ice-cream truck, with whom he and his family had multiple conversations. The gathering goes to track down the culprit at home, just to track down the executioner’s mom died and spoiled in her bed. Hodges and Jerome scour the executioner’s PC and find his next plot to kill many individuals at a pop show only minutes away, on account of Holly’s strange kind of genius.
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Several lives and the day are rescued by the sheer obstinacy and perseverance of the retired detective and his friends, and the criminal, whose sole wish was to die in glory, instead be left to decay in a hospital bed, devoid of fame and the death he so diligently wrought does come true as he faces a heart attack leading to his death.
William Hodges’ most endearing characteristic is his embarrassment over his first name, Kermit. This minor detail, while ultimately unimportant in the big picture of the novel, gives the character a sense of authenticity and relatability. Bill Hodges is a figure similar to John D MacDonald’s series character Travis McGee, who was never a cop nor a private investigator. Mr. Mercedes is a very pleasant ode to the crime/thriller genre by a writer who is immersed in its legacy, told in a conversational, folksy tone.