I’ve been reading Stephen King for years – doesn’t everyone begin reading his stuff in their teens? – but haven’t had much to do with anything he’d written lately, other than On Writing. So it was interesting to see what his fiction was like these days.
Of course, this isn’t much like most of King’s other work – or at least, his stereotypical horror output. For starters, it’s not horrific: it’s a cop drama. Retired cop drama, to be specific. With Mr. Mercedes, the first in an as-yet-unnamed trilogy, he’s started telling the story of Bill Hodges, an unlikely hero and even less likely Lothario.
King tips his hat to James M. Cain at the start of the book, and it’s easy to see how the pulp master’s work inspired this tale of taunting killers and run-over jobseekers. There’s a lot of back-and-forth which – while pretty predictable overall – ratchets the tension level throughout. The reader always knows who the killer is, though, so there’s continual anticipation of the inevitable confrontation.
The book’s pretty predictable, and it’s not hugely original. But King’s eye for description is sharp, and it zips along. It seems King might have written this as a sort of writer’s clear-out – an attempt at working in another idiom. If so, it’s a success. How successful you think it is depends on your familiarity with the genre, but it’s quick, popcorn-y fun.