I read somewhere that Stephen King’s 52nd published novel Mr Mercedes started as a short story before ballooning to its present form. It makes me wonder if it would have worked better as a short story–a novella, even–instead of as a novel.
The novel opened spectacularly, in fact, with a scene which was rich with tension and suspense, plus a healthy dose of social commentary and symbolism thrown in. However, the middle part seemed to lag and meander considerably. Fortunately, towards the end, with the introduction of a new character, it barreled to an exciting climax and a satisfactory ending.
I’m not an expert on the genre of crime so I cannot adequately dissect Mr King’s foray in crime writing. However, I have seen enough hard-boiled detectives films and TV shows to recognize some of the tropes that are prevalent in this genre: the retired cop, the intrepid assistant, the femme fatale, and the insane killer, among others. Even the iconic fedora makes an appearance in a brief scene, although I think its purpose in the book was not to play up this image of a detective in a trench coat skulking in a dark but to subvert this image.
There are many similar instances of genre-subversion in the book. For example, Hodges the retired detective is not a compulsive drinker and is less neurotic about his sexual desires. His assistant is a tech-savvy black teenager who likes to speak like a Southern slave. And the antagonist is an unremarkable monster who’s more menacing on-line than in real-time. But the over-all effect is not really to turn the genre on its head but to sort of update and modernize it.
The most obvious indicator of this is the character of Holly, who turned out to be the unlikely hero of the book.
After Lisey’s Story (2006), I didn’t read the 6 books that came after. I understand some of these books are also in the crime thriller genre. I read Doctor Sleep (2013), the somewhat underwhelming sequel to The Shining and coming from that, Mr. Mercedes is a better book because it is well-rooted in the small-town realism (and cleverly placed social commentary) that Stephen King is just so brilliant at. But is it one of his best? Maybe not.
Posted on October 8, 2014, in review and tagged book, crime, Doctor Sleep, fiction, Lisey's Story, mass killer, Mr Mercedes, Stephen King, The Shining, thriller. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.