Augie was driven to his knees beside the sleeping bag, and kicked repeatedly as he struggled to get back up: in the arm, in the shoulder, in the neck. People were screaming. He heard a woman cry, “Look out, look out, he’s not stopping!” – Mr. Mercedes
Leave it to Stephen King to ease his readers into a false sense of security before blowing their whole world apart. That’s exactly what happens at the beginning of Mr. Mercedes, King’s latest novel. The story begins with normal, everyday people standing in line for a job fair set to begin the next morning. It’s dark and cold and they really don’t want to be there. But the economy has gone to hell and they need jobs. Two of the job seekers strike up a conversation: Augie, recently divorced, and Janice, a single mom too broke to leave her baby, Patti, with a sitter. They get along well and Augie offers his sleeping bag to the pretty mom and her daughter. But when the sun begins to rise through a thick, dense fog, the driver of a stolen gray Mercedes destroys the calm with a blast of the horn and the squeal of screeching tires, leaving nothing but chaos and death.
Fast forward six months to the home of retired Detective William Hodges. He does nothing but watch afternoon television and contemplate eating his Dad’s .38 revolver. Being a retired cop sucks. But when he gets a letter from the Mercedes Killer, Hodges wakes up from his suicidal fog, hoping to solve the one case that got away from him.
Mr. Mercedes is definitely what I call an “Uncle Stevie Staple” because it contains much of King’s signature elements: regular joes doing extraordinary things, good or bad; dialogue that makes you laugh to break the tension; detailed descriptions of people, places and events, particularly the bloody stuff that makes you want to hurl; and catch-phrases that stick with you (I still use the term “Happy Crappy” thanks to the Kid in The Stand). Some may find his kind of writing a bit hokey or “not real writing.” But if everyone wrote in the same way, books would be unbelievably boring. King does not write like anyone else, he writes like Stephen King. Does it always work? No (Pet Cemetery, what was he thinking?). But it does for Mr. Mercedes. King doesn’t shy away from the psychotic stuff that happens in the world. He blows the door wide open, knocking it off its hinges. Readers get to really see the characters, flaws and all, and what drives them to do good or terrible things. King also delves into the world of technology and how it can be used for seriously bad things (some of them will make you think twice about having a tech come to your home).
Mr. Mercedes is a fast read and becomes very hard to put down once things really get going. The ending will make you want to throw the book across the room because you just won’t believe it ends that way (there had better be a sequel, Uncle Stevie). I definitely recommend it.