Hundreds of unemployed citizens line up for a job fair in the early morning hours of a Midwest city. A stolen Mercedes plows through the unsuspecting crowd, driven by a lone driver in a clown mask. When the chaos is over, eight innocent people are dead and more than a dozen more are injured.
Retired police detective Bill Hodges spends his days watching talk shows, haunted by the unsolved cases he left behind. When a letter arrives claiming to be from the Mercedes Killer, he decides to investigate on his own instead of going to the police. In doing so, he must match wits with a crazed psychopath, for whom one murderous rampage was not enough.
“I'm going to kill you. You won't see me coming.”
Mr. Mercedes succeeds in hitting several of my favorite reading elements: a page-turning suspense thriller, well-developed, sympathetic characters, and a seriously creepy bad guy who got under my skin.
The telling of this story in the present tense, a departure from King's regular writing style, has the benefit of moving the narrative along at a rapid pace, which in turn heightened the race-against-the-clock feel for both Brady (the murderer) and Hodges and his crew.
At times the plot feels contrived, particularly the constant rationalization of why Hodges refuses to turn to the police for help even after it becomes clear that Brady is becoming unraveled. This, however, does nothing to diminish the suspense of the novel, as Hodges runs into roadblocks in his investigation and Brady grows more desperate and disorganized.
As usual, King's character development is unparalleled, with a connection being forged between the reader and characters that are only alive for ten pages. While on the surface some of the characters appear to be formulaic (the suicidal, retired detective, the brilliant tech-savvy young kid, the psychopathic maniac with mommy issues, etc.), King's development of these characters is still successful. They are sympathetic and accessible, with even Brady having his moment of sympathy (albeit a very, very brief one).
This book is classic King, probing the conflict between good and evil both within his characters and between them, though this time played out with purely human elements. Despite not being as strong a showing as his last few novels, this was a solid start to what will hopefully be an enjoyable trilogy.