Sunday, December 17, 2017
Books

Review: Stephen King puts the pedal to the metal in 'Mr. Mercedes'

Stephen King's books usually teem with all manner of ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggetty beasties. The supernatural and paranormal and fantastic — from Carrie's telekinesis to the psychic vampires of Dr. Sleep — have been hallmarks of much of his bestselling work.

But his latest novel, Mr. Mercedes, needs no otherworldly flourishes to create a memorable monster. Human beings can be more than monstrous enough.

The monster in this case is the title character. "Mr. Mercedes" is a grim nickname given by the media to someone who in 2009 stole a luxury car from an upscale neighborhood in the unnamed city where the book is set. The prologue describes how he drove it before dawn to a community center where hundreds of people were lined up for a job fair — and accelerated into the crowd. Eight people died, 15 were injured, and Mr. Mercedes got away, abandoning the car at a warehouse with its only link to him a bleach-wiped mask he had been wearing that reminds one police officer of "that TV movie about the clown in the sewer" (a wink to King's 1986 novel It that is as otherworldly as Mr. Mercedes gets).

The novel moves to the present with the crime still unsolved. One of the detectives who led the investigation, Bill Hodges, is now retired and divorced and struggling with boredom and depression, with too much junk food, junk TV and time alone with his late father's revolver.

Until, that is, the day he gets a letter in the mail. Its crazed punctuation is enough to count as criminal, but Hodges immediately realizes he's being taunted by Mr. Mercedes. He knows he really ought to turn the letter over to his old partner who's still on the force — but the thought of one last major collar is the only thing that has gotten him out of his recliner in ages. The letter ends with an invitation (or dare) to communicate with the killer at a website for private chats called Under Debbie's Blue Umbrella, and Hodges hopes he can turn that link into a trap.

It's no spoiler to tell you that we learn who Mr. Mercedes is not long after we read his letter to Hodges. Brady Hartfield is a nondescript youngish guy who works as an IT help tech and still lives with his mother. If you think that adds up to a nerdy stereotype, think again. The Mercedes massacre was not Brady's first foray into homicide, nor will it be his last — he has a closet full of plastic explosives and an itch to outdo himself. And he has a relationship with his alcoholic mother that makes Norman Bates look wholesome. He also has a second part-time job that's handy for spying on retired cops and their neighbors: driving an ice cream truck.

Mr. Mercedes takes on one of the classic crime novel forms, with alternate portions narrated from Hodges' and Brady's points of view as the retired detective races to uncover the killer's identity and figure out where he will strike next. Hodges can't turn to the usual police resources, so he comes to depend on two unlikely helpers. One is his neighbor Jerome, a personable, bright 17-year-old who's as much of a computer whiz as the bad guy. (Brady, who's a racist along with all of his other nasty traits, detests Jerome because he's a black kid whose nickname, Jerry, is "a white kid's name.") The other is Holly, the middle-aged niece of Olivia Trelawney, the woman who owned the fateful Mercedes. Despite her insistence that the car was locked and she had no idea how it was stolen, Olivia committed suicide after the massacre. Her niece is an emotionally stunted woman who, like Brady, still lives with an overbearing mother, but Holly has surprising reserves.

King may have left out the supernatural in Mr. Mercedes, but his gifts for creating thoroughly believable characters and thrumming suspense are in full play. He keeps raising the stakes and ratcheting up the violence, and just when you think everything is settled there's one spine-icing little turn on the very last page.

Propulsive, deeply creepy and at heart warmly humane, Mr. Mercedes is not really a departure from the rest of King's work. But if you really miss those ghoulies and ghosties, he'll have another novel out in November, a horror tale called Revival.

Colette Bancroft can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8435.

Comments
Adam Savage’s ‘Brain Candy Live!’ at the Straz Center: Canceled

Adam Savage’s ‘Brain Candy Live!’ at the Straz Center: Canceled

Looks like the idea of Brain Candy Live! returning to Tampa Bay in 2018 turned out to be a myth.The interactive science spectacular, co-hosted by MythBusters' Adam Savage, has canceled its upcoming North American tour, including a May 5 event at the ...
Published: 12/15/17
Here are this week’s pop culture winners and losers

Here are this week’s pop culture winners and losers

Salma HayekSalma Hayek has spoken out against Harvey Weinstein, calling the producer a "monster" who threatened her career and her life after she reportedly denied his sexual advances. Hayek said working with Weinstein on the film Frida was like "goi...
Published: 12/15/17
What to watch this weekend: ‘A Christmas Story Live,’ Star Wars movie marathon, Hollywood Christmas Parade

What to watch this weekend: ‘A Christmas Story Live,’ Star Wars movie marathon, Hollywood Christmas Parade

OH, FUDGE! A CHRISTMAS STORY LIVE!The trend of live musicals broadcast on television isn't slowing down anytime soon, and A Christmas Story Live! — based on the classic holiday movie and Broadway musical — was ripe for the next taking. Fo...
Published: 12/15/17
Harry Potter’s Nymphadora Tonks, Natalia Tena, joins A Celebration of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando

Harry Potter’s Nymphadora Tonks, Natalia Tena, joins A Celebration of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando

The bubble gum pink-haired, shape-shifting witch Nymphadora Tonks from the last four Harry Potter films is headed to A Celebration of Harry Potter next month.Natalia Tena marks her first appearance at the annual wizarding world celebration Jan. 26-28...
Published: 12/14/17
Kids’ books a popular read at meteorologist Ginger Zee’s home

Kids’ books a popular read at meteorologist Ginger Zee’s home

NightstandGinger ZeeZee, 36, is the chief meteorologist at ABC News. In her newly released memoir, Natural Disaster: I Cover Them, I Am One, the Rockford, Mich., native details her multiyear struggle with depression and her life in the limelight. "It...
Published: 12/14/17
Notable: 50 years ago

Notable: 50 years ago

Notable50 years agoThese three books document some of the events of the cultural watershed that was 1967.Ali: A Life (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) by Jonathan Eig is the first complete biography of boxing icon Muhammad Ali, who in 1967 refused to be dr...
Published: 12/14/17
Review: Kevin Young gives readers the truth about ‘Bunk’

Review: Kevin Young gives readers the truth about ‘Bunk’

We live in the age of the hoax.Believe me.And if you don’t believe me, believe Kevin Young, author of the sometimes disturbing but always fascinating new book Bunk: The Rise of Hoaxes, Humbug, Plagiarists, Phonies, Post-Facts, and Fake News.In it, Yo...
Published: 12/14/17
Uber Eats is delivering 'free' chicken McNuggets across Tampa Bay

Uber Eats is delivering 'free' chicken McNuggets across Tampa Bay

You'll still have to pay the delivery fee, but the 10-piece McNuggets are free.
Published: 12/13/17
What to watch this week: New season of ‘The Librarians,’ Gwen Stefani’s Christmas special

What to watch this week: New season of ‘The Librarians,’ Gwen Stefani’s Christmas special

MondaySEASON FINALE: The Gifted, 9 p.m., Fox: The team at Mutant HQ is divided on what to do next after Jace is forced to hand over something valuable to Dr. Campbell.Disney's Fairytale Weddings: Holiday Magic, 8 p.m., Freeform: A behind-the-scenes l...
Published: 12/11/17
This week’s pop culture winners and losers: Tonya Harding edition

This week’s pop culture winners and losers: Tonya Harding edition

WINNERS: Tonya Harding The once disgraced Olympic figure skater is no longer on thin ice in the pop culture world. Harding joined Margot Robbie, who is playing her in the upcoming film I, Tonya, on the red carpet this week. While Harding pleaded g...
Published: 12/08/17