Page Turners

Mr. Mercedes and Stephen King’s Experiment In Noir

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Hey everyone, guess what time it is? Time to venture back into the twisted world of Stephen King! And we have a very interesting example of his work to look at today. Obviously, King is most known as a writer of horror. But that’s not all that he produces. Like anyone, King doesn’t seem to want to be boxed in to just one genre. He famously created an alter ego named Richard Bachman to write stories that leaned more toward dystopia and social commentary. And in more recent years he seems to have realized that he can really do whatever he wants. As long as he pumps out a horror novel every couple year he seems to have carte blanche to do whatever sort of genre experimentation he desires. There’s of course the more fantasy-tinged Dark Tower series as well as the time-travelling thriller 11/22/63. And recently he seems to have gotten a certain interest in noir. A few years ago he wrote an interesting little novel called Joyland about a murder-mystery in an amusement park that I quite enjoyed. So when I learned that King had created a trilogy of novels that leaned even closer to noir than Joyland, I was intrigued. And while the beginning of this trilogy, Mr. Mercedes, may not have delivered exactly what I was looking for, it was still a very interesting and enjoyable story.

Mr. Mercedes tells the story of a man named Bill Hodges. Hodges was a prominent detective for the police department of an unnamed city, but is now retired and searching for meaning in his life. Well, that and obsessing over an unsolved case that case about at the end of his career. On a misty morning a mysterious man wearing a clown mask stole a Mercedes from a local rich woman named Olivia Trelawney and rammed it into a crowd of people waiting for a job fair. The man then abandoned the vehicle with absolutely no clues to his identity, and disappeared. Hodge spent the dregs of his career trying to find the killer, with no luck. Eventually Mrs. Trelawney committed suicide, and Hodges retired, hoping to put it all behind him. Until one day Hodges gets a letter. A letter claiming to be from the Mercedes killer. It’s a vicious letter trying to convince Hodges to kill himself, and gives him a link to an anonymous chat website where he can presumably talk to the Mercedes killer. However, the letter does not have its intended effect. In fact, quite the opposite, because now Hodges has a new purpose in his life. Investigating the letter and finding Mr. Mercedes.

Hodges then begins investigating. He heads around the town, talking with his old partner, getting help from a young man named Jerome who’s good with computers, and checking in on the estate of Mrs. Trelawney. Which is when he meets Trelawney’s sister Janey, who has a bombshell. Trelawney also received a mysterious letter, and was driven to suicide by Mr. Mercedes. So Janey hires Hodges to find the killer and bring him to justice. And who is that killer? Why, we know for most of the story, and also get to meet a sullen and horrible man named Brady Hartsfield. Brady is Mr. Mercedes, and he’s one of those terrible 4Chan scumbags who thinks that he’s the smartest, most misunderstood person in the world, and who is being unfairly treated by the universe. So he’s lashing out at it, trying to prove that he’s better by killing innocent people, and driving Trelawney and Hodges to suicide. Hodges however remains very stubborn to this. He continues tracking down Brady, doing everything he can to stop the killer from enacting a new plan to detonate a homemade bomb during a concert. Hodges finds new purpose, and new loss, and develops a bit of a new family by the end of the novel, deciding to continue helping people.

I’ve probably become a bit of a noir snob over the years, so my standards for them are a tad high. Which may explain why this novel didn’t thoroughly scratch my noir itch, while still being an interesting story. I really enjoyed the mystery that was presented in Joyland, and was interested in seeing King really give a shot at a noir. Which really wasn’t what we got here. It was more of a procedural police novel, just one where the officer wasn’t an active member of the force. We’re still treated to an interesting mystery, and Stephen King is still a great writer, so it’s still a well-crafted story. We just weren’t given that traditional noir, with Hodges going all around the city, meeting people from all sorts of strata of society, and being lost in a miasma of plot. It was a more cut-and-dry story of a detective tracking down a killer. Which isn’t to say there’s anything wrong with that. I was pleasantly surprised with the book, and very glad that it never took a supernatural bent. King is clearly trying to branch out and try new things, and I think that should be applauded. Any weird disappointments I have with the novel most likely stem from me expecting a different type of story. As it stands, Mr. Mercedes is an interesting novel that really shows that despite the genre, King is a hell of a writer.

Mr. Mercedes was written by Stephen King, 2014.

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