I have a confession to make.
This…. this was my first Stephen King novel.
I know. I KNOW. It’s embarrassing to admit it.
The strange thing about Stephen King novels are that the blurbs just don’t seem to capture me. They’re written as if people know what to expect and so there isn’t this pull to them. This novel however had something different with it. It was cheap. Very cheap indeed. So of course I bought it immediately!
From the get go, I was absorbed. I have been on a bit of a crime binge with my entertainment choices lately so this really tickled me pink. After reading The Great Zoo of China by Matthew Reilly I was hoping to encounter suspense done well (without the usage of excessive exclamation points or ellipses). King is truly a master at suspense. You can feel the trouble brewing, like some awful anvil shaped cloud looming on the horizon that you just know is bad news.
The killer is infamously named after he plows a Mercedes into a line of waiting job seekers at a convention centre. The case is never solved, a fact that still bothers Bill Hodges in his retirement. An anonymous and taunting letter in the mail opens up the case once more in an unofficial capacity. Bill is on the killer’s scent and he will have to accept that his own biases and poor police work could have been the reason he escaped. Time is running out and the killer may just strike again.
Bill was an okay main character, although he came across as being rather white bread. I believe that this book was published around 2014. For me, this publishing date means that I judge King harshly for including so many stereotypes and for creating a character that was so typical of the crime genre. An old, white, rough cop who is retired, haunted by his past and subconsciously looking for the thrill of the chase and of love. Seem familiar?
Well, that’s because it’s been done a million times. For a writer who is so promoted as being imaginative and unapologetic, I found his creation of Bill to be extremely disappointing. The events had a sense of predictability to them due to the usage of such a trope. As soon as they introduced the sassy black teen, anyone could tell that he’d become the sidekick with a heart of gold. And don’t get me started on the introduction of the hot and large breasted woman…. Despite this, Bill was a fine main character. He wasn’t awful and he wasn’t excellent. But he was okay. You could argue that King wasn’t looking to redefine the genre, but instead create a book that does all of these tropes right. That is something that I would agree with. Despite how stereotypical some characters or events are, they are at least written into the story well.
The antagonist, Brady Hartsfield, was the character that I enjoyed the most. I love reading novels where the narrators are a bit disturbed or demented. While I don’t agree with his thoughts or actions, it is interesting to see his logic justified and to understand why he thinks the way that he does. I really enjoyed reading about the relationship dynamic between Brady and his mother as it was filled with constant twists and turns. I feel quite confident that King’s other books will be excellent if the antagonists are given their chance to narrate.
The side characters were probably my least liked parts of the books. Janey, Bill’s sudden lover, seemed very contrived and more like a doll than a real person. She felt like the kind of perfectly crafter woman that a writer would imagine for a guy like Bill. So, in other words, she was forgettable. She felt like a way to bring emotion out of Bill, instead of a fully fledged individual with her own wants, needs and drives. As soon as she entered the picture, she did little more than enable Bill. I understand that her motives come from personal revenge but for someone with so little of an understanding of the justice system, she seemed awfully quick to forget about the potential repercussions.
Holly was frustrating but different enough to at least be intriguing, although I found myself a bit annoyed with King when she suddenly became ‘better’ because she joined his hunt. That… isn’t how mental illness works… Jerome was probably my favourite out of the three. He acts as a modern window for Bill and is young enough that he infuses some positivity and energy into the hunt (I was starting to get sick of hearing about being overweight and behind the times, Bill).
Something that I perhaps didn’t enjoy was the way that King dealt with technology. I do understand that for much of the book, he was writing from the technologically incompetent point-of-view of Bill. This meant that some explanations had to be dumbed down or explained in a very basic manner. However, I found this rather jarring as this didn’t seem to change overly much when the perspective switched to Brady who is a computer whiz. I was particularly conscious of the exposition that Jerome did whenever something even slightly technological arose. I understand that the book needs to be accessible but to a certain point. Brady’s genius was definitely undermined by how clunky the writing was around these areas, as the need to slow down and explain his actions or how something work detracted from the suspense.
Overall I did enjoy this book. I found it to be fast and a solid crime novel. For me, it didn’t astonish or break new grounds and I was disappointed that my first foray into the world of King was so PC. I would love to read more of his shocking and disturbing books and learn why he actually earned such a reputation.