The release of a new Stephen King novel is a fête in the twisted universe that is my existence.
The first King novel I read was ten years ago and, oddly enough, it was one of his longest: IT. My sister, who was about nine when I was two or three years old, loved to torment me in odd ways. My crime of being the family usurper of attention was punished by shoving the cover of the book in my face until I wept. If that wasn't bad enough, the cover featured the titular central monster of the book, Pennywise the Dancing Clown. As a result, I was afraid of clowns for much of my young life. My grandpa took me to the VFW one summer afternoon for Circus Day and, as I entered and saw a battalion of clowns standing to greet me, I immediately turned tail and ran the hell out of there.
The time came when I had to face my fears and get over this irrational phobia, so I read the book and watched the movie. In others that may have exacerbated the fear, but it healed me to the point where I instantly became a Stephen King devotee.
A week ago Stephen King's newest novel End of Watch was released and I, who had been waiting for the release date for months, was among the first hold this tome against my soul. It's the third and final novel in what King calls the "Mr. Mercedes Trilogy." The two previous novels in the series are Mr. Mercedes (published on June 3rd, 2014) and Finders Keepers (published on June 2nd, 2015.) Mr. Mercedes won the 2015 Edgar Award for Best Novel from the Mystery Writers of America.
The novels, which King states are his first attempts at true pulp detective fiction, feature the themes of Terrorism, Obsession, and Suicide. King stated that, though he started the novel before they occurred, the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing was "too creepily close for comfort."
A few characters remain constant through all three novels: Bill Hodges (the detective, a retired police officer), Holly Gibney (a middle-aged woman plagued by depression and anxiety, who eventually plays a big role in Hodges life), Jerome Robinson (a black boy that Hodges befriends and who evolves through the course of the novels from a lawnmowing teenager to Harvard University student), and Brady Hartsfield (the villain who, for lack of more judicious words, is a complete and utter asshole with no possible semblance of sympathy from the reader.)
I won't attempt to synopsize the first two novels, as I would recommend you read those prior to this, as it'd be akin to starting to watch the original Star Wars Trilogy by starting with Return of the Jedi. And trust me in the fact that, once you pick up one of these books, you will not be able to put it down. I think Lays should include King's books in their marketing campaign of "You can't have just one."
The finale of this saga that we've followed for three years comes to an explosive conclusion. The novel is as compelling and revelatory as a piece in character studies and fast-moving and slick in terms of action. The book holds a grip on your heart and doesn't offer relief until you've closed it for the last time.
For those who thought King was in a slump a few years ago, you are most certainly eating your words about now. The past four years have featured some of King's best writing. In addition to the Mercedes novels, King has also published the electrifying novel Revival and a collection of short stories, The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, which are like little hits of Ecstacy that leave the reader jonesing for more. His previous novels IT and The Dark Tower are being made into multi-million dollar films in the next few years and even Mr. Mercedes is in the process of being turned into a Television Drama.
King, as is no surprise in this day and age, can spin a yarn so perfectly that you wish the sweater would never be completed. His characters are robust, complicated, and filled with little tics that make you scan every page for more detail. The gore, though present, is never overexaggerated or shocking for the sake of shocking. Each word is placed like a pearl on a pillow, as solid as the work of a fine craftsman.
One of the more astounding features of this series is that each of the three novels takes a theme from a previous King epic and retools it to fit this new world. We see a demented version of Pennywise from IT in Mr. Mercedes, a ravenous fan stalking a famous writer a la Misery in Finders Keepers, and the theme of Carrie and Firestarter, Telekinesis, is explored in End of Watch.
This book is, perhaps, even more frightening than King's true horror stories, because the characters are so completely and intensely human. Hodges, though slightly curmudgeonly, is a man of great virtue and a worthy successor to Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer and Dashiell Hammett's Sam Spade. Holly and Jerome are vastly different sidekicks, but both provide firm grounding for the more daring Hodges and, more often than not, are his saviors. Hartsfield is one of King's most terrifying creations, a creature devoid of sympathy or conscience. This man indulges in murder, incest, and encourages and worships suicide. You feel each death at the hands of this man as if it were your own family.
End of Watch is a gripping end of a series that will be held up in the future as an extension of the pulp crime novels of the greats. King's economy, lyric descriptions, and honestly blunt dialogue push the plot along until you run into a conclusion that will both warm your heart and tear it apart.
There has been enough praise (and criticism, as well) for King that I could spend the rest of my life reading glowing reviews of him and never run out until the day I die.
And let me just say, if one of King's books was the last thing I ever read, I'd die with a smile on my face and true, ecstatic fear in my gut.
Filed under: Book Reviews
Tags: bazaar of bad dreams, book review, book reviews, carrie, dashiell hammett, end of watch, finders keepers, firestarter, it, literature, mickey spillane, mike hammer, mr. mercedes, pennywise clown, phobia of clowns, pulp crime novels, revival, same spade, star wars, star wars trilogy, stephen king, the dark tower, VFW