‘Mr. Mercedes’ by Stephen King (2014) – 449 pages
‘Mr. Mercedes’ will be a best seller selling millions of copies. A hugely popular movie will be made based on ‘Mr. Mercedes’, if they can find a young actor willing to risk his career playing an evil loser. But ‘Mr. Mercedes’ is not very original, surprising, or deep. Haven’t I read this story before, even though I haven’t?
A couple of weeks ago I read a review of ‘Mr. Mercedes’ which said that maybe today our two finest novelists might now be Joyce Carol Oates and Stephen King. I’ve had my problems with Joyce Carol Oates over the years, but I do consider her a major literary figure. But Stephen King, Mr. Best Seller? I’ve never considered the possibility that King might be a major novelist and have not read any of his novels or stories. On the chance that I may have missed something, I decided that I would read ‘Mr. Mercedes’.
In this novel Stephen King has written a detective thriller which tackles demented acts of violence. Like so much of what happens today, the acts are done for no other reason beyond the severe personal problems of the perpetrator. Oh, yes, ‘Mr. Mercedes’ is a rouser, a roller coaster, just what you would expect a best seller and future movie thriller would be. We have Bill Hodges, our old recently retired detective who is at loose ends since he left the force. Only when one of the few criminals he didn’t catch, Mr. Mercedes, contacts him does our old detective perk up. His only pal is Jerome Robinson, a black computer-savvy teenager in the neighborhood who mows his lawn and whom Hodges recruits to help capture Mr. Mercedes. Later Hodges meets a younger woman who of course is all too eager to go to bed with him.
A rush of older actor leading men will be trying out for the role of Bill Hodges in the movie as well as young black actors trying out for the role of Jerome Robinson.
Our villain is a dastardly villain indeed. Mr. Mercedes is young computer geek Brady Hartsfield who lives with his mother. Besides working for an electronics shop fixing computers, he drives an ice cream truck. He is portrayed as sick, twisted, and evil enough so that no one would want to emulate him. In true thriller fashion, the novel alternates between sections with our hero detective and sections with our creepy villain Mr. Mercedes.
A lot of the novel consists of trying to figure out people’s computer passwords in tense situations.
‘Mr. Mercedes’ is not any kind of literary work. The characters are all clichés, and the thrills are all stereotypical. There is no depth here, nothing really involving or challenging. It is a thrill ride, nothing else. It would be a shame if Stephen King were actually one of our finest writers. Fortunately there are quite a number of United States fiction writers with more originality and depth than King, and at the world level there are dozens. ‘Mr. Mercedes’ is like the new Batman or Spiderman movie. For a few days it captures all the hype and the excitement, but after it leaves town no one really cares.
An encyclopedic recall of product names and show names does not a literary writer make. A clever mimic of another writer’s style does not literature make. A deadpan pastiche of a hard-boiled detective procedural is hardly literature. Enjoy the movie.