With Mr. Mercedes, High Anxiety Rules

Originally published August 2014

Ever had one of those days where you feel like a raging disappointment to anyone and everyone that you are remotely connected to? Well, at least you are not Brady Hartsfield.

In Stephen King’s latest, Mr. Mercedes, Brady is the bad guy. Bad, bad, bad. OK, so it’s probably his schizoid, alcoholic, baby brother-killing, willing-to-jerk-her-son-off mother’s fault, but really. He could have just called a therapist instead of getting behind a little old lady’s Mercedes and mowing down a bunch of people just trying to score a good place in line at a job fair.

Now? Brady’s bored. Or crazy. Yeah, crazy. So he’s targeting Bill Hodges, the now-retired police detective that never cracked the Mr. Mercedes case. Bill’s thinking about eating a bullet, but on the day he receives a written taunt from Brady, his sense of purpose is renewed. He’s going to catch him.

I’m a big fan of King—The Stand remains one of my all-time faves, and I loved loved LOVED 11/22/63. Mr. Mercedes, with its veiled homage to Alfred Hitchcock, does not disappoint. But it was for a different reason that made Mr. Mercedes such an engaging read, at least for me. King’s trio of heroes—Hodges, along with neighbor and surrogate son Jerome and Holly Gibney, the 40-something relative of one of Brady’s victims—make for a very unlikely set of spies and crime busters. In particular, Holly, whose anxiety disorder and awkwardness have left her socially paralyzed much of her life.

Spoiler alert ahead! It was just plain refreshing to have Holly, along with 17-year-old Jerome (both techno geeks, and wow, that was an asset in this book) be the ones to go badass on the face of evil, saving the lives of thousands of tweeny boppers at a boy band’s arena concert. Suck it, Jack Reacher.

Also cool? Hodges isn’t a total schlump, but he knows he’s got a few pounds to lose. He might even have some back hair. And one of the book’s tragic heroines goes for him anyway. In this case, the nice guy does win. Sort of. I won’t give away everything.

Mr. Mercedes grabs the reader from the first page—in a harsh, kind of “You DID know you were reading a Stephen King book, right?” kind of way, and does not let you go until the end. It’s hefty, but a very quick read. If you are looking for a mesmerizing thriller, pick it up and block out a few hours. Have fun!

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