I’ve just finished Stephen King’s End of Watch, the final installment of his Mr. Mercedes series. And I want to say I enjoyed it. Well — I did enjoy it, but I’m also really, really confused and kinda disappointed by it.
Spoilers below, but the novel is like two years old, so… you know …
The entire premise of the novel is a head-scratcher — Brady Hartsfield, the psycho killer from the first novel, has woken up from his coma with psychic abilities thanks to experimental drugs administered by a fame-chasing doctor. (That’s the One Big Lie — if you can swallow that, the book is fine!) Now, he’s reaching out through mind-control to induce suicide on a massive scale.
Which … okay. It’s a fascinating idea. And a horrific one. It’s a great idea for a Stephen King novel, in fact. Problem is — there hasn’t been a speck of the supernatural at work in either of the first two novels in the series. And all of a sudden, the big bad can do incredible things with his mind and a little game boy device and — everybody in the story just buys it. They just do!
It’s just a bizarre turn in a series that didn’t need a woo-woo bent. What was King thinking?
And the end is an absolute bummer. Hodges, the lovable grouch, succumbs — not to the attacks leveled by Brady, but to the cruel whim of cancer. And not moments after securing the dispatch of the big bad, but several months later. With no fanfare. He dies “off camera”, as it were, with King showing us an upbeat Hodges at his birthday party in the treatment center, upbeat and fighting, and then cutting to almost a year later at his funeral.
Again — wtf?
It may be true-to-life, and maybe that’s the point — but crikey. We read detective novels not to live in the real world of mundane (if horrible) cancer deaths, but to live vicariously by the seat of our pants. I’d have been happier if Hodges and Hartsfield managed to off each other in the end, or even if Hodges succumbed a few days or weeks later. But months? He finishes the baddie and looks ready to give cancer a run — but nope, surprise, he’s dead anyway?
Mr. Mercedes is a detective story — the finding of clues, the glimpses into the mind of a psycho, the inevitable pursuit and capture. King is great at those things, and all three novels tell a great detective story. But this final chapter is just laden with so much else.
Again, it’s not a problem with the content. I don’t mind the story of an aging protagonist struggling with cancer. I don’t mind the concept of a murderer using mind control to commit his crimes. In fact, that’s kind of awesome! But you can’t shoehorn those things into an established story world just for sharknados and giggles.
I whole-heartedly recommend Mr. Mercedes, the first book in the series. As for the later installations?
What was he thinking?
Verdict: Two and a half out of five daisies pushing through the fresh-tilled earth.
This terrible review is part of Stream-of-Consciousness Saturday.