The Bill Hodges Trilogy: Mr. Mercedes, Finders Keepers, End of Watch
eBook, Hardcover – End of Watch
eBook, Hardcover, Mass Market Paperback – Mr. Mercedes, Finders Keepers
Mr. Mercedes: June 3, 2014
Finders Keepers: June 2, 2015
End of Watch: June 7, 2016
A Review by Michael David Anderson
Most people associate Stephen King with things that go bump in the night. I say people because let’s face it, Stephen King has become a household name. Even those who don’t read know about Stephen King, thanks to the films and television productions based on his works, some of them good, many of them grotesquely bad. Think of King, and odds are you’ll also think of Tim Curry’s delightful performance as Pennywise the Clown in the mini-series It from the nineties, or of the Plymouth Fury named Christine that has a murderous mind of its own. Let’s not forget the iconic Stanley Kubrick adaptation of The Shining starring Jack Nicholson, an adaptation Stephen King has spoken out against multiple times throughout the years.
There are plenty of other iconic Stephen King figures in his repertoire, but what many people don’t realize is his best books, the ones that get under your skin, are the ones where the villains are human, without any supernatural leanings of their own. Even in fare like The Mist, Ms. Carmody is the scariest part of the story, not the monsters outside, especially when she starts calling for human sacrifices.
For the Bill Hodges Trilogy, beginning with Mr. Mercedes, King left behind the shocks of ghosts and ghouls and focused on a human antagonist: Brady Hartsfield. While Finders Keepers doesn’t feature a return of Brady to the forefront of the story, he remains in the wings, waiting for his horrifying return in the final novel, End of Watch.
I will try to remain brief, but seeing as how I’m reviewing three books at the same time, this review may go a little longer.
This trilogy always circles back to an event from the beginning of Mr. Mercedes: a massacre outside of a job fair where a throng of desperate people are hoping to obtain jobs during the recession, in 2009. Brady steals a Mercedes and uses it to plow into the group, killing many and injuring many more. . . and yet the madness doesn’t end there, for Brady is determined to kill as many people as he can. He possesses a fascination with death, especially suicide, and he begins to pursue others connected to his initial spree, such as Olivia Trelawney, the lady from whom he stole the Mercedes. The means by which he tortures Olivia are purely psychological, but his end goal in these cases is to drive his victims to suicide.
He makes a mistake by going after Bill Hodges, the protagonist of the series and a retired police detective who investigated the Mercedes Killer incident at the job fair. Brady’s goal is to drive Hodges to suicide; however, he inadvertently gives Hodges a purpose in his retirement, and a game of cat and mouse between the maniac and the detective ensues. Along the way, Hodges enlists the help of two people in particular, Jerome Robinson and Holly Gibney, and the three of them find themselves in a race against time. . . because not only has Brady been driving people to suicide, but he’s determined to outdo his initial massacre at the job fair with something far more horrific.
This review will contain spoilers, of course, but I’ll do my best to keep them minimal; even in regard to the later books, I’ll try to keep them from spoiling this first book. That being said, the cat-and-mouse game between Hodges and Brady is well-handled and escalates toward a tense climax. There are leaps in logic, of course, and the consequences of actions taken aren’t consequences that normally transpire in the real world. In this regard, I definitely felt as though I were watching a standard detective or buddy cop type of movie where everything gets wrapped up in a neat bow rather than playing out as it normally would. This isn’t a complaint, per se, but more of a warning that there is some suspension of disbelief required in some parts of the tale.
Mr. Mercedes was recently optioned as a television mini-series event, more than likely in response to the excellent 11/22/63 adaptation that was recently released on Hulu. It’s a shame, however, that Anton Yelchin will be unable to portray Brady Hartsfield because a freak accident involving his Jeep took his life last month.
Finders Keepers, the second book in the Bill Hodges Trilogy, takes a different route. A family directly affected by Brady’s initial massacre is front and center in this particular novel; Bill Hodges doesn’t even show up until a large chunk of the plot has passed, only entering the fold once this story is already barreling full speed ahead. Brady isn’t dead or in prison in this outing; instead, he’s in the hospital in a near vegetative state, unable to stand trial for his actions in the first novel. Bill visits him on occasion, taunting him, certain Brady is faking it. . . and the first paranormal experiences of the series arise here, although they will not come to fruition until the final novel, End of Watch. Nurses recount strange happenings around Brady, such as objects moving of their own accord.
Finders Keepers, however, focuses on an entirely different antagonist: Morris Bellamy, a convicted felon who went to prison for an entirely different crime than the one at the center of this tale. In the novel’s opening pages, set in 1978, Morris murders the acclaimed yet reclusive author John Rothstein and steals his most valuable treasure: the unpublished manuscripts of two complete novels set after a trilogy he published earlier in his life before retreating to a life of solitude. Morris has no intention of selling these novels but is determined to treasure them himself. A night of drunken stupidity leads to his incarceration for a different crime, and the manuscripts, which he buried for safekeeping, remain undiscovered for decades while he sits in prison… until Peter Saubers, whose father was injured in Brady’s initial massacre, discovers the chest of Rothstein’s manuscripts.
Of the three novels, while Finders Keepers deviates from the trilogy’s primary antagonist, I think this novel is actually the strongest of the three in terms of theme and storytelling. King raises some interesting questions regarding ownership of storytelling and how fiction affects us in the real world. We all love a good story, after all. These explorations alone are worth the price of admission.
Of course, the title Finders Keepers could be a play on the theme of discovery and ownership, but it’s also the name of the investigative agency Bill Hodges and Holly Gibney have opened since the conclusion of Mr. Mercedes. They come into this tale as the wheels have already been set in motion, for Morris Bellamy has been released from prison, and he’s come for his John Rothstein manuscripts.
With End of Watch, as I alluded earlier when I first addressed Finders Keepers, the story is no longer an ordinary man versus man story; here, Brady Hartsfield has become something far worse. While we’re never quite sure what fully led to his abilities, perhaps it is a combination of brain damage and experimental (and highly illegal) drug therapies that leads to Brady’s abilities to harness telekinesis… and possess the bodies of others. He also uses an antiquated game tablet called a Zappit and a demo for a fishing game to accomplish these means. At first, Brady is simply happy to escape the existence to which he has been confined, a prisoner in his own broken body and mind. However, he soon plots not only to exact revenge against Hodges but to also finish what he started in the first book.
End of Watch is radically different than the first two novels in the trilogy and also serves as an exhilarating conclusion to the series. Readers who expected a more grounded tale like the first two might be disappointed in the sudden deep dive into the paranormal, but King’s constant readers shouldn’t be all that surprised. The lengths to which Brady Hartsfield goes in this novel are surprising, but he proves to be far more dangerous this time around than he ever was in Mr. Mercedes.
Altogether, the trilogy is a great series, and while the first two novels are great pulp detective stories, the final outing mixes that recipe with King’s peculiar brand of horror. My thoughts? While the first two tales would make for either great movies or television, I think End of Watch would be difficult to adequately transition to film. As a novel, however, it makes for a great, albeit radically different, read from its predecessors.