Beginning in 2014, Stephen King has released the above books, one per year–a trio of satisfyingly powerful and interrelated suspense/crime/horror novels. The trilogy takes place in an unnamed city in the Great Lakes area. The jumping off point for all that follows is a mass-killing that a fame-seeking madman commits in 2009, during the worst of the Great Recession.
The preface of Mr. Mercedes is truly vintage King. We are introduced to and in just a few pages made to care about several people among a crowd of the unemployed who have gathered outside a community center before dawn to attend a job fair. He accomplishes this with knowing details and convincingly natural dialogue. Then a luxury automobile car appears out of the fog. This powerful vehicle and symbol of privileged wealth becomes an instrument of murder. Its unknown driver plows through the defenseless crowd to create shocking carnage before escaping.
From there Chapter One jumps forward several years and introduces K. William Hodges. Bill (don’t call him Kermit, he hates it) is a recently retired detective. He was the lead investigator of this case, in which 8 people were killed and scores injured, and his frustration at being unable to solve the crime is just one of several factors that have him thinking of suicide–until a taunting email comes his way. It seems the still-unknown Mercedes Killer is fascinated by his onetime pursuer and has decided to reemerge, intent on further torturing the former cop before going out in a final homicidal (and suicidal) blaze of glory that would dwarf his previous act.
We quickly realize who this insane monster is–this isn’t a whodunit, but more an account of how Hodges and a few seemingly unlikely allies come together to learn the killer’s identity and, at the last possible moment and huge personal cost, derail his plans.
As one expects from King, the numerous characters here (and in the books that follow) are fleshed out, varied, interesting to read about and real. I don’t want to provide any unnecessary spoilers, but given the fact that this is a 3-book series, it shouldn’t be overly surprising that the good guys’ hard-fought success at the end of Mr. Mercedes isn’t as conclusive as it seems.
Finders Keepers opens a few years later. The titles refers to the skip-tracing business a rejuvenated Hodges has founded with one of his offbeat allies as his partner. They become involved in a new case involving other casualties of Mr. Mercedes‘ earlier rampage. This book is a very serviceable middle book of the three, those perhaps not quite as impressive as the novels book-ending it. Still, it by no means drags and it ends with highly effective foreshadowing hints of what the concluding book has in store.
End of Watch brings us up to the present day, more or less, and confirms that the evil first unleashed in the first book has not been extinguished. Indeed, it has found a new and terrible outlet. Again, without saying too much, lets say that while the evil in the first two books used technology (cars and computers in particular) and warped psychology to pursue its ends, the conclusion of the trilogy adds aspects of the supernatural and/or science fictional to its bag of tricks. And King manages it most effectively.
These books are exciting, extremely well-written, full of tragedy that truly moves the reader (not everyone you’ll want to survive does), and also very, very entertaining. King in top form–and his top form is pretty damned hard to beat. Each book CAN be read and enjoyed separately, but they gain a richness with the added familiarity with characters and their development that reading the three in order (and back to back) provides.
Very highly recommended!