The Booksluts Discuss: Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King

17 June 2014 by 32 Comments

Mr. Mercedes by Stephen KingBook: 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.

Heather: Yep.

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.

Stephen King Mr. Mercedes

…and then this was posted by SK on his Facebook page the day after we had this conversation.

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

Heather

Aside from reading, Heather’s passions are dancing, music, and watching college basketball (go, ‘Cuse!). She’s a political junkie, loves nature from a distance, and has an on-again/off-again love affair with tech gadgets. She also blogs at Between the Covers.

32 thoughts on “The Booksluts Discuss: Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King

  1. I’ve only skim-read the above (super avoiding anything remotely spoilery) but it sound as if he’s written something similar to Joyland? I adore that book so much, esp as I was doing my ‘read Dark Tower in a year’ thing – it was such a release.
    To my shame, I still have Doctor Sleep sitting unread from Christmas, but I need to find time to get a Shining re-read in first.
    It may be a Summer of King, as I seriously want to get my hands on Mr M.

    • Yes, Mr. M is more like Joyland, but there is nothing supernatural in Mr. M at all.

      I read The Shining last year, so was able to read Doctor Sleep as soon as it came out. I think rereading The Shining first is a good idea. I also really enjoyed Doctor Sleep.

  2. BAHAHA I also noticed that there were no blue chambray shirts in this book and was grateful for it.

    I’m actually a bit excited that this is going to be a series. I think I’d like it better if a certain character who dies in this book (SO SAD) was going to be around, but I can deal. I really liked our little threesome of heroes and am interested in seeing more of them. Also, I didn’t hate the ending. It wasn’t great, but it didn’t let me down to the degree that so many of his endings do.

    Brady was a fantastic villain. No supernatural stuff needed with a villain this scary. I thought he was very well-developed, and as I was reading, I also felt uncomfortable when I noticed the similarities between his mindset and the UCSB shooter’s. I will never look at an ice cream man the same way again.

    • I’m not *against* it being a series, I’m just…hesitant.

      And although I’m sad that a certain character died in this one, I’m kind of glad that the love interest part is gone. I wasn’t too keen on that.

      • The love-interest part of the story was fun but not central to the narrative. It just bummed me out…between this and the love-interest death in 11/22/63 I’m like WHY DO YOU LIKE IT WHEN I CRY, UNCLE STEVE?

    • I think Brady was one of the best villains he’s written in a while.

      And I’m glad I wasn’t the only one who noticed the similarities, even if It did make me twitchy while I was reading.

      • Agreed – best SK villain in quite a while. Honestly, I think this is the best Stephen King BOOK in a while. I like 11/22/63 a lot, but this was better. And I don’t even want to talk about Under the Dome.

  3. yes, the size of the arena didn’t make sense to me, either. I knew immediately O’Dell was at risk when Brady mentioned him. Was already to be thoroughly upset.
    Holly was awesome! And I admit, I had read that she was to be a recurring character before I encountered her in story so my interest in her was heightened.
    Since I listened to the audiobook, I am not sure which part/s of the last bit was the epilogue; the picnic?
    I did enjoy this!

    • SPOILER FOR THOSE WHO HAVEN’T READ THE BOOK:

      The last part that sj and I both could have done without was the scene with Brady waking up in the hospital and asking for his mother.

  4. Anyone else wondering if SK here is trying to jump on the “trilogy” bandwagon? I just want to tell him, like, listen, you’re one of the bestsellingest authors of all time, you don’t need to write a trilogy just so people will read your books.

    I was also a little confused about the size of the theater. At first I thought I must have read it wrong, but he kept on with the “4,000” thing. On the other had, I did see the Marshall Tucker Band in my tiny local theater several years ago, so maybe it’s not outside the realm of possibility? (Though obviously they were not nearly as popular as some teenybopper boy band at the time, so.)

    Brady reminded me of a combination of two SVU villains who always stuck with me–the guy named Humphrey who was afraid of the dark because his mother would lock him in the closet so she could go see her Humphrey Bogart films and the other dude who stabbed women with pins when he raped them and was also sleeping with his mother. *shudder*

    • I was really surprised to learn it was going to be a trilogy. I’m not necessarily against it, but it just seems out of character.

  5. Reading M.M. right now and it’s a very modern day satorical comment on today’s world. I love Hodge and my similar age and views make the book one I can relate too. Love the references to It and Christine. But where does this take place?

  6. I love this format too! I only skimmed your thoughts because I’m also not finished the book, but found the few things I read interesting. I really liked Joyland even though it didn’t have any supernatural elements and assume I will feel the same way about Mr. M because SK’s such a brilliant storyteller, he can write in whatever genre he sets his mind to successfully.

  7. The opening scene was King at his best.

    The villain, his mom, and the relationship between the two, all felt fully realized and appropriately creepy.

    In regards to the good guys, I found the love story subplot believable (SPOILER) as a short term relationship of convenience and timing between two decent, mature adults – made more believable by the admission of one party that the relationship had a finite end in sight (END SPOILER).

    I liked the main characters, however Jerome’s alter ego felt like ground that King had already heavily tread via Susannah in the Dark Tower series (but with different character motivations).

    The size of the concert venue, for a band of the stated popularity, bugged me a lot, especially with its repetition. The author should have done even a little research on that one. It felt like an aging writer out of touch with the current live music world and I know King is better than that.

    For me, King’s tweet, so soon after the novel’s release, about the book starting a trilogy was aggravating in that it named characters who would continue (and by extension, somewhat implied that others would not). I was deep enough into my reading that this foreknowledge acted as general spoilers in regards to a couple characters and diluted my enjoyment of the natural unfolding of the story.

    (SPOILER) The car driver switch felt forced. The scenario would have made sense any other day, but not on the day of the character’s mother’s funeral. “Mom just died, I better drive my new lover’s (but not my new love) old car by myself to the internment.” I believe they would have left the car in the lot and swung by later to pick it up. (END SPOILER)

    Overall, I liked this book a lot, but did not love it. I rank it below recent King novels, 11/22/63 and Joyland.

    On a side note, I loved the nod to King’s son, writer Joe Hill. One of the roadies wears a Judas Coyne t-shirt. Coyne is the primary character in Hill’s novel, Heart-Shaped Box.

    [i wrote this on my iPhone. Apologies for any errors.]

    • I found the love story believable for the lust aspect. Harrowing situations tend to bring people together, even if only for sex. The actual falling-in-love part, I question.

      I totally agree with Jerome’s alter ego being just like Susannah’s. Definitely. But I did *get* why Jerome might have acted that way sometimes (teenager, not necessarily “cool” to be that intelligent, etc).

      Yes, the car switch felt forced to me, too, now that you mention it. Absolutely.

      I didn’t get the nod to Joe Hill–I haven’t read Heart-Shaped Box yet.

  8. Normally new King isn’t on my radar (with the exception of Doctor Sleep) but sj said I had to read this one, so now I’m on the waiting list at the library. I will come back and read the spoilery parts in six months or however long it takes for me to get it…

    And I know others have said this as well, but I do love the discussion format. You guys should “Booksluts Discuss” all your SK reads… and everything else you read together.

  9. I was interested to read your column (a year late) having just read the book. I generally enjoyed it BUT…I HATED the way King had Jerome talking like a black servant in a 1930s comedy. If the kid wanted to act ghetto in 2014, he would most certainly not be talking that way — he would be imitating rappers. Sometimes I don’t know what King is getting up to. Was he making fun of how we assume that if a middle class black kid tries to act street he would talk like a rapper, only Jerome being sort of a nerd he talks like Stepin Fetchit? Turning some sort of stereotype on its head? Because if that was his intent King failed. Badly. Those parts of the book made me squirm with embarrassment for everyone.
    On another note:
    Did anyone else notice that King made a point of having Brady expressing thoughts that established that while he was certainly mentally ill, that he knew what he was doing was wrong? Given how this keeps coming up in all the mass shootings we seem to have every ten minutes, this is a timely point. And I don’t think it was an accident that he inserted quite obviously into the text.

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