Up Late with Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King

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As the summer draws to a close, I’ve been trying to read more books I would consider beach reads rather than books that might enrich my teaching. I’m busy trying to cram as much pleasure reading in to these last few days. I think the universe is looking out for me, too. I don’t know about all of you, but I have a hard time buying a new hardcover book, especially when I could get 2 or 3 for that price! But when a new book by a favorite author comes out, I’m torn. Just my luck, though, I was at my local independent bookstore, and I saw Stephen King’s Mr. Mercedes there for almost half it would have cost at Barnes & Noble. Kismet, I thought. I’ve been a fan of Stephen King since I was borrowing my brother’s books in seventh grade. There’s a reason I’m afraid of clowns, St. Bernards, and automated cars and I blame Mr. King (and sometimes my brother).

Mr. Mercedes, a classic King novel, is a quick read, and more of a psychological thriller than horror. To be fair, it is horrifying what Mr. Mercedes has done and plans to do, but there’s no ghosts or ghouls or alternate worlds in this book. In fact, I would categorize this as detective fiction. Retired Detective Bill Hodges is haunted by the one crime he didn’t solve in his tenure–the mysterious, gruesome Mercedes killer, who ran over people waiting in line with a Mercedes and then abandoned the vehicle and escaped, unidentified. The book follows the detective, whose life after his career leaves a lot to be desired. We see him make a transformation from severe depression and isolation to more active involvement and connections–all because he receives a letter from the Mercedes killer, taunting him.

I would rate this as a solid book and a good read, but nothing spectacular. Not like last summer’s Dr. Sleep, the sequel to The Shining. That one delved deep into the issues of addiction and alcoholism, and had a seemingly more epic conclusion. But I suppose with a sequel, your reader carries the entire first book with them as well, so you can go a little deeper. The climax of this Mr. Mercedes was, upon reflection, perhaps more powerful than epic. We see some unlikely heroes arise and the denouement gave me some hope for people’s ability to change and transform, even later in life. I find that as King ages, and as I age, the stories examine the human condition and seem more hopeful than some of his earlier work. Perhaps that hope was there, but I wasn’t looking for it as a younger reader? Either way, pick up this book if you’re looking for a good detective story (albeit one with swearing and some gross descriptions of death).

Oh, and you know I can’t finish this review without mentioning the fact that King paraphrases Hamlet when the killer is feeling a little blue: “he has to be doing something. He needs to feel…how did Shakespeare put it? Taking arms against a sea of troubles.” Nothing like a reference to Hamlet’s existential speech to make an English teacher like your book even more.

posted by Kate, VP Secondary

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Up Late with Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King

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