Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King (Scribner, 448 pages, June 2014)
There's so much to love about Mr. Mercedes, King's latest novel, but this is not just me fan-girling all over it. Allow me to explain.
Unlike Under the Dome, for instance, Mr. Mercedes has just a handful of major characters, and it's this tightly-controlled narrative that propels the story forward at a brisk pace. You find yourself reading so fast that you're skipping words, but you want to know what did he just find out? Will they be too late? Will they warn them in time? etc. etc.
The story itself isn't new, but King, in his usual way, makes it compelling. A deranged but "average-looking" young man plows a stolen car (yes, a Mercedes) into a crowd of people waiting in line outside at a job fair, and somehow escapes. Not content with his feeling of power and cruel triumph, he writes a taunting letter to the now-retired detective who had worked his case. The taunts are supposed to push the depressed, suicidal detective over the edge.
I think you can guess what happens next. The detective, instead of shuffling off this mortal coil, gets a jumpstart, if you will, and launches back into the case on his own. Oh, along with a couple of very resourceful friends.
And it's important that the detective catch this guy, cause Mr. Mercedes is planning something big for his final blaze of glory...
King's narrator inhabits both the mind of the Ret. Det. and that of the murderous Mr. Mercedes, switching between them often in order to juxtapose them. On the one hand, we have the detective, bogged down by regrets over his divorce and estranged daughter and lack of a life now that he's retired; and on the other a young man with two part-time jobs, a near-incestuous relationship with his mother, and regrets over his role in the death of his little brother. The characters' self-analysis and self-justifications are vintage King, and masterfully done.
And yet, King doesn't launch into long philosophical musings, or rely on complicated metaphors- as usual, he writes in a way that gets into your head and makes you feel like someone's narrating a story to you in person. It's conversational, transparent, and effective.
But what makes Mr. Mercedes even more enjoyable for lovers of the written word is how meta it is. Much of the story deals with the detective and Mr. Mercedes scrutinizing and analyzing one another's letters and electronic communications. Close-reading, evidence-based analysis: all of this is key to catching the murderer/evading capture. King, then, offers us a detective novel that recognizes the crucial part the written word plays in any investigation. After all, close-reading a poem or a novel can be called an "investigation."
Unfortunately, I haven't yet read Doctor Sleep, but I will rectify that soon. In the meantime, go grab a copy of Mr. Mercedes, and don't be put off by the image of dripping blood on the cover :-P