The Booksluts Discuss: Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King
Book: Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King
sj’s rating: 4.25/5 Awkward Family Photos
Heather’s rating: 4/5 balls of hamburger hidden in the mini-fridge
First line: “Augie Odenkirk had a 1997 Datsun that still ran well in spite of high mileage, but gas was expensive, especially for a man with no job, and City Center was on the far side of town, so he decided to take the last bus of the night.”
Published: June 3, 2014 by Scribner; 448 pages
sj and I have been working on a Read All the SK project since January of last year. We’re (re)reading all of King’s books (with a few exceptions) in order of publication. But when he comes out with a new book we read it right away, because otherwise we’d be waiting over a year to read it and that just doesn’t fly.
Mr. Mercedes isn’t a typical King horrorfest. It’s straight crime fiction, no supernatural elements, no chasers. And it’s good. Really good. sj and I read it together (kind of, she’s faster) and then we sat down to chat about it:
sj: Okay, so the first thing I wanted to talk about (cos I do have some questions): How did you feel about the fact that this was straight crimefic? I was a little nervous about that, because most of his stuff has some element of the supernatural about it, but I thought he did a really excellent job (of course, crimefic isn’t my normal genre, so).
Heather: I liked it. I know King will forever be labeled a horror writer, but this book proved that he can do more than write horror (which we already knew from the books he wrote as Bachman). I think Mr. Mercedes easily fits into the category of excellent crime fiction.
sj: You know, it’s funny you mentioned Bachman, because I was definitely thinking while reading that Bachman should have released this one posthumously (and you know most of the Bachman shiz is high on my list, anyway).
Heather: One of my blogging friends didn’t like Mr. Mercedes all that much because he thought the characters weren’t developed enough. But I would argue that this book–because it’s crimefic–is meant to be plot-driven and not character-driven, necessarily. I think if people go into this book thinking it’s going to be the usual King (meaning lots of character development, inner dialogue, etc.), they’re going to be disappointed…or pleasantly surprised, maybe. (I also disagree with the idea that the characters aren’t developed enough, though. I had my favorite characters, but none of the main characters felt at all flat to me.)
sj: Yes, I absolutely agree with that. Um, all of that.
sj: I loved that it wasn’t eleventy billion pages, I loved that we got right into the action (that cold open? DAMN), I loved almost everything about this one, and I’ve been pretty hard on him the last few years. (heh, I said hard on)
Heather: I agree with all of that, too. It was nice to finish one of his books in just a couple of days, as opposed to it taking me a full week.
sj: I know we were supposed to be reading together so I’m sorry I didn’t wait for you. YOU KNEW I WAS A SNAKE!
Heather: We agree on the one thing we didn’t love about it, which is usually the only real complaint we have about a lot of his books. That man just doesn’t know how to land the plane, does he?
sj: No, he really doesn’t. I think he generally nails the short fiction cos of the constraints of the medium, but with longer works, it’s like he can’t resist fucking around past the point it should have ended.
sj: Like my kids who don’t know when to stop telling their story. We get another “AND THEENNNNNNNNNN!” And most of the time, it’s highly unnecessary.
Heather: Yes. The ending was perfect…and then he added those last few paragraphs and I was like, ‘Oh, dude, no. It was FINE. It was PERFECT. Whyyyyy…?’
sj: When I think of why I didn’t like some of his more recent stuff, it’s almost always cos the last chapter/few pages fucking ruined everything for me. Luckily, the epilogue didn’t make me hate this book, but I did feel it didn’t need to be there at all.
Heather: Agreed. I have to wonder if he added those last few paragraphs because Brady is still ‘talking to him’? I really don’t like the idea of a sequel. I think that would be a mistake. And if there was no thought of a sequel (or maybe using him as a character in another book?), then that ending was super unnecessary.
sj: I think maybe he is still hearing the song, but it was kinda cool that this book didn’t take place in the greater SK universe, but instead in the Keystone World*. There’s no Derry here, but there was one on tv. That’s totally unusual for him, and I thought it was a really cool departure.
Heather: YES. I liked that, too. There were the little references to his work (It, Christine, and…was there another one?), but as fiction. Also? No blue chambray shirts.
sj: NO CHAMBRAY! NO MAGICAL NEGRO! (Jerome doesn’t count.) Both of their screennames had 19, too. And there were a few other 19s, I think.
Heather: Well…there was kind of a magical negro…just not magical in the sense of The Shine.
Heather: I know we already talked about this while we were reading, but who is (are) your favorite character(s)?
sj: Holly. HOLLY, HOLLY, HOLLY. I realize that it’s a common trope now to have the girl with the hidden illness be the smart one that ends up getting shit done, but I loooooooooooved her.
Heather: It’s not even that she ended up being the “smart” one. It’s that she had been held back her entire life–both by her psychological/social issues and her awful mother–but in the end she was finally able to prove herself (to herself) and do something totally tough and out of character. I think that’s fantastic. I loved her and Jerome the most.
sj: Oh, I totally agree. I’ve just been seeing reviews that complain about her.
Heather: And even though Brady scared the crap out of me and I couldn’t stand him, I think he’s a really well-written bad guy.
sj: Yes – Brady was really well written. And so was his mother. I totally had a mini-freak out a few times.
Heather: Characters like Brady always make me wonder about the Nature/Nurture thing. How much of his badness was he born with (how much of it was a real disorder/illness), and how much of it could be blamed on his environment? I always wonder that about people who do evil things. Some part of me always feels bad for that kind of person. Oh yeah, his mother was a totally believable character, too.
sj: Honestly? I was so uncomfortable reading about Brady so soon after the UCSB shootings because I saw a lot of parallels between Brady and that shooter (I AM NOT SAYING HIS CHILDHOOD WAS THE SAME), but their attitudes were so similar.
Heather: They were, you’re right.
Heather: I would have no problem recommending Mr. Mercedes to crimefic fans.
sj: I just want people to know that it’s not just an excellent Stephen King book, but a great book in general.
sj: So spoilers?
(NOTE: SPOILER-Y DISCUSSION BELOW. YOU HAVE BEEN FOREWARNED.)
Heather: The only thing I really had to say that is kind of spoiler-y is that I LOVE the scene at the end when Holly is being a badass and when questioned she responds, “Therapy.” I laughed so hard at that. I think that might have been my favorite line in the whole book.
sj: Yes, I loved that too.
Heather: Oh, and I was REALLY upset when I thought Jerome’s dog was going to be poisoned. Like, seriously upset. I hate when innocent animals die those horrible deaths in books/movies. Ugh.
sj: I think my spoilery shit is the minor things I want to grumble about.
sj: The InstaLove between Hodges and Janey really bothered me. I also had a hard time with the way the amphitheatre was set up. He said it held 4000 people, but that makes no sense, cos that’s TINY. Like, there’s no way a One Direction type band would play a place that small.
Heather: I wasn’t too fond of the InstaLove, either, but I can accept it as InstaLust. I was wondering about the size of the amphitheatre, too. Where did the story take place (and why can’t I remember)?
sj: It was an unnamed Midwest town, I think in Ohio somewhere, based on the clues given.
sj: Yeah, like, the smallest stadiums here are 30K, so I think he just made up some shit. Idk why it bugged me so much. Like, I am being totally pedantic about it, cos it’s so small, but I was all THERE IS NO WAY.
Heather: Haha! 4,000 people is still a lot of people, though, and a band would do it for the right price, I think. I don’t know.
sj: Heh, but big boy bands like that usually play to huge crowds (I just looked up One Direction and their smallest recent concert was 40,000). I WILL SHUT UP ABOUT THIS NOW.
Heather: The only other thing that kind of bothered me was the totally lax security at the concert. I just don’t see that happening in real life. But none of these things did anything to make the story less enjoyable for me.
sj: Yeah, that bothered me, too. No, exactly. And if it weren’t for that stupid epilogue, it would have been five stars. I wanted to smack him. LEAVE WELL ENOUGH ALONE, UNKY STEVIE!
Heather: I agree. Hee!
Highly recommended if you like: Stephen King, pulpy detective stories, lots of action, and believable characters.
*Ed note: The Keystone World refers to the world that we, as readers, inhabit. The term was used in The Dark Tower series. Many of King’s other works take place in a fictional city or world, which is not the Keystone World (unless.. unless WE ARE ALSO FICTIONAL). In case you were wondering what the hell it is and you’re not DT geeks like we are. — Susie