Stephen King’s Mr. Mercedes is a unique kind of horror story – the kind that could happen in reality. The kind that has happened in reality. No, it is not a true story, nor is it a fictional account of a true event. But it is the tale of an event that one could easily imagine happening in real life.
From the start, we know who is the good guy and who is the bad guy. Retired Detective Bill Hodges is our good guy, our white hat hero who retired from the force on a high note. He left a few unsolved cases behind, one of which was dubbed the Mercedes Killer. Divorced, living alone and verging on, if not actually, depressed, he watches a lot of afternoon TV and eats far more than he should. He hasn’t thought much about the Mercedes Killer until the day he’s contacted by him. But as soon as that contact occurs, Hodges is drawn back in. He tries to resist, but even as he tries, he knows he’ll investigate.
Our bad guy is Brady Hartsfield. Brady is…unique. His mind is a terrifying mess, filled with bad memories, twisted thoughts, and evil plans – and on the outside, he’s an attractive, if average, young man who smiles and is friendly all the time. He’s the Mercedes Killer, and he’s not done yet. Running that car into a crowd of job seekers one early April morning was just the beginning. He’s got more plans, plans that are both bigger and smaller than that. But first, he intends to have some fun.
Throughout Mr. Mercedes, we see inside the minds of men on opposite sides of the law: we see how the detective thinks, what he feels, and how easy it is for a good man to consider ignoring the letter of the law. We also see how the killer became what he is today, the things and people that contributed to his hideous mind – and how easy it is for him to fool everyone around him.
I’ve often said, after reading such tales as It, ‘Salem’s Lot, and Pet Sematary, that I wonder how King sleeps at night. I’ve found the things his brain comes up with fascinating and terrifying in equal parts. After reading this, however, I am more curious than ever at how King can think of these things. As a writer of romantic suspense, I often put myself in the mind of a bad guy, but King does it so much better than I ever could. I sometimes am so repulsed by the idea of how a bad guy might think or act that I think I end up pulling punches a bit in my own books, but King doesn’t do that. He never holds back, diving deep into the mind of a truly insane character and taking us along with him.
It’s scary to be inside the mind of a killer – to read the awful things he thinks, the things he hides behind that friendly smile. But even scarier, possibly, is seeing how everyone around him is utterly fooled. Seeing so many people who work with him, live by him, and otherwise interact with him, and have no idea that the person they’re talking to or laughing with is completely and totally out of his mind.
King did an excellent job with this book. He took a story that could have been merely good, or slightly scary, and turned it into a book that scares the pants off of you. He does it with reality this time, rather than aliens, vampires, or time travel.
Even if you aren’t usually a Stephen King fan, I would highly recommend this book. I’m looking forward to the sequel, Finders Keepers, that will come out this summer.
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