Stephen King has stuffed the ghosts and ghouls into the closet and is instead channeling the spirits of noir detective fiction for his latest book. No matter whether he is operating on the astral plane or one nearer to reality, Stephen King remains a master storyteller and Mr. Mercedes is no rule-proving exception. This is one of those books that you can pick up and get completely lost in, waking up hours later with no concept of where the time went. Other writers may be able to sustain a thin, paper veneer between the reader and the real world, but with Stephen King it is a solid brick wall.
Mr. Mercedes opens the door and immediately leads the reader into the action as a psychopath plows a borrowed Merc into a group of people queued at a job fair. Next we are introduced to the cop, styled very much in the fashion of a Joseph Wambaugh character, who was assigned to solve the case and failed. The failure is primarily the result of the crime being a one-off random event, as opposed to the more standard serial-killer fare of mystery novels. The detective is now retired and suffering from an affliction common to those who in the past did not merely work, but were employed with a passion—the lack of a continuing purpose.
The psychopath Brady, perhaps in need of stimulation, begins to stalk the depressed and suicidal cop, taunting him cat-and-mouse-like with online messages through an anonymous server interchange. His aim is to push the vulnerable ex-detective into killing himself—a perfect risk-free murder. Far from being drawn into this web, our cop hero Bill begins to set his own trap, with the aim of catching the most important criminal of his career that got away.
What ensues is an enthralling series of head games, fake-outs, and near-Jedi mind tricks. King’s characters are so well-drawn that they nearly have material substance. We are forced to confront the ugly human realities that shaped the murderer Brady to the point of understanding but, of course, pulling up short of pardon. With Bill we are led to an understanding of the serious threats resulting from the absence of motivation and follow his path to recovery.
In short, Stephen King has done it again. Mr. Mercedes is the ultimate binge-read of the summer.