Stephen King is the master of the horror story. Sure, he has his critics, but he must know what he's doing to be able to sell millions of books.
Then there are the movies. Carrie, Pet Sematary, Children of the Corn, Cujo. TV shows like The Stand and Under the Dome.
So the question is: Can Stephen King also be the master of the detective story? That's what Mr. Mercedes is – a traditional detective/mystery story.
Bill Hodges is a retired cop. He's a decorated cop, served 40 years before handing in his badge and not because he got too old to do the job, but simply because it was time. He's divorced with a barely there relationship with his grown daughter. He lives in a small home one step above a bachelor pad. He sits in front of his TV each day, lonely, depressed, gaining weight, with a growing desire to take his pistol, put it in his mouth and blow his brains out.
Then he gets a letter. Mr. Mercedes, named that after killing eight people by driving a stolen Benz through a crowd of people, taunts him. Hodges solved a lot of cases in his day but he ran out of time to find this guy.
What Mr. Mercedes wants is for Hodges to go ahead and pull the trigger. That way he can chalk up another kill without actually having to risk very much.
Of course, we all know what the letter does. There would be no story if Hodges went ahead and took this creep's advice. So the cat and mouse game starts with Hodges getting closer each day and Mr. Mercedes, who has the typical anger and mommy issues, getting crazier by the day.
So back to the original question: Can King master the detective story?
Well, it's a good novel. It's entertaining. In fact, I would even read a second Hodges mystery (King as already stated that Mr. Mercedes will be the first in a trilogy). But a masterpiece, it isn't.
Every reader has to suspend a certain amount of disbelief in order to buy the story. King knows this just as well as anyone. That's what made novels like Christine, Carrie and The Stand classics in their genre. Were they real? Of course not. But the goosebumps we got from reading them were real. It was easy to buy into the story because King is that good at scaring people.
No one expects to be scared by Mr. Mercedes. But there are also some plot points that are hard to believe.
For example, Hodges befriends a kid down the street. Jerome is a 17-year-old high school student who has an Ivy League future ahead of him. He's technically savvy so he helps Hodges out. Okay, so far believable. But without giving away some of the story, there are just some ways this kid gets involved that makes you say, no way, come on, you want me to buy that?
On the other hand, there are some good plot twists through the book.
Bottom line: If you're a King fan, you'll probably enjoy Mr. Mercedes for what it is. If you're a fan of detective novels, then you have a good summer read on your hands. Just be prepared to roll your eyes a bit.
The cover of Stephen Kingís Mr. Mercedes.