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A king very worthy of his crown

Monday, June 30, 2014
By Robin Shukla

Stephen King is an American author of contemporary horror, suspense, science fiction, and fantasy. His books have sold more than 350 million copies and many have been adapted into feature films, and for television. King published fifty novels, including seven under the pen name Richard Bachman. He has written nearly two hundred short stories, most of which have been collected in nine collections of short fiction. Most of his stories are set in his home state of Maine. His latest book, Mr Mercedes, already a number one bestseller, is reviewed on this page. 

Every book he has written has made to the top of the bestsellers lists in most parts of the world, and, for him, this creates a hard act to follow. But credit where credit is due, Stephen King manages to pull off a winner, writing about a 28-year-old man who murderously mows down a whole crowd of people using a stolen Mercedes, leaving eight dead and scores injured. That the victims were down and out in life and were standing in a queue from before dawn hoping to land up some employment at a job fair, and the police have not yet traced the perpetrator, makes for a riveting start to this 405-page hardbound book.

In a brazen move, the killer sends off a taunting missive to decorated (ex) Detective Bill Hodges, who has been handling his retirement rather badly, with no control over the drinking and eating, bored and depressed, spending his empty days watching a popular reality show which he is so much skeptical about but sits on his La-Z-Boy to watch nonetheless. The tentative option out of this for him is the .38 Smith & Wesson that he keeps toying with, even holding it against his mouth to get the feel of what it could be like when he can finally get around to settling it all. This is the setting King starts us with. The Mercedes tragedy is one of the few cases Hodges has not been able to solve, and the killer’s letter has now arrived six months after he has retired, having ably served the police force for forty years with an outstanding record, twenty-seven of them as a detective.The killer gloats, putting in a grinning Smiley with sunglasses on the page: I am sure you gave it 'your best shot,' but sadly (for you, not me), you failed. I imagine if there was ever a 'perk' you wanted to catch, Detective Hodges, it was the man who deliberately drove into the Job Fair crowd at City Center last year, killing eight and wounding so many more. (I must say I exceeded my own wildest expectations.) Was I on your mind when they gave you that plaque at the Official Retirement Ceremony? Was I on your mind when your fellow Knights of the Badge and Gun were telling stories about (just guessing here) criminals who were caught with their pants actually down or funny practical jokes that were played in the good old Squad Room? I bet I was!...You probably need a Hobby, so you'll have something to think about instead of 'the one that got away' and how you will never catch me. It would be too bad if you started thinking your whole career had been a waste of time because the fellow who killed all those Innocent People 'slipped through your fingers.' I wouldn't want you to start thinking about your gun. But you are thinking of it, aren't you? I would like to close with one final thought from 'the one that got away.' That thought is: F.... YOU, LOSER.This is enough to trigger a reaction and Hodges back into the hunt. The first thing we see is how to study a letter for clues, starting with the postmark. Being sent from close by is usually part of the taunt, and part of the fun for the killer. Referring to himself as a 'perk' rather than a 'perp' is part of the dropping of clues, whether to guide or to confuse. The remark about the revolver implies that the killer has seen him through the window handling it more than is necessary. Before he knows what is happening, Hodges is already in his element, doodling on a sheet with a series of headings: One-sentence paragraphs, Capitalised phrases, Phrases in quotation marks, Fancy phrases, Unusual words, Exclamation points. The excellence of the storyteller in King sees him disclosing the identity of the killer on page 42. He is Brady Hartsfield, who shuffles with two jobs and looks after a mother who has alcohol issues. From becoming a whodunnit, the story swerves on to becoming a whydunnit, and Hodges and Brady are into a cat-and-mouse game of wits. Brady invites Hodges to network with him saying, PPS: Want to get in touch with me? Give me your 'feedback'? Try Under Debbie's Blue Umbrella. I even got you a username: 'kermitfrog19.' I might not reply, but 'hey, you never know.'There is Jerome Robinson, a black American, who mows Hodges lawn and helps around as an when. He is also net and computer savvy. He is treated as as a friend and a part time employee. There are also colleagues in the police department, Pete Huntley.The unwitting owner of the Mercedes, Mrs. Trelawney, is a lonely old soul, no friends and just a sick mother to tend to. She had stopped by her mother's place with food when the car was stolen. The investigation about whether she was careless enough to leave the key in the ignition, thus allowing her car to become the killer's weapon, has her rattled and guilty. Her death, believed to be suicide, is another intriguing event in this book. Brady speculates: Mrs. Trelawney didn't have any friends. No husband, either. Just her old sick mommy. Which made her easy meat, especially after the cops started working her over. Why, they had done half of Brady's work for him. The rest he did for himself, pretty much right under the scrawny bitch's nose. And now Brady, who disclosed in his letter that he did not intend to do any such thing, is planning a nasty surprise which may kill hundreds. Hodges has to stop him.              

Mr Mercedes
by Stephen King

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