Early this morning I finished the final book of the Bill Hodges trilogy by Stephen King, which begins with Mr. Mercedes (you may have seen that it's also a TV show now!), continues in Finders Keepers, and comes to a brilliant conclusion with End of Watch. I found all three books engaging and, busy though I am, each took me only about a week to read.
If you like detective stories in which the murderer is usually one step ahead of the detective, you'll love these. I even have a short tip for writers at the end. Read on.
These novels deal with the heartbreaking subject of suicide. If you are suffering from suicidal ideation (the clinical term for suicidal thoughts), please call the suicide prevention hotline, 1-800-273-TALK. Stephen King even includes the number in the final book of the Bill Hodges Trilogy, which covers the subject in a sad and honest way.
It's easy to sink into depressing thoughts, but they are just that: thoughts. Having someone to talk to can help!
I waited until I read all three books in the Bill Hodges Trilogy before starting my reviews of the individual books, and I'm glad I did. Doing so allowed me to get a broader view of the story as a whole.
The overarching theme of the series, first shown early in Mr. Mercedes, is suicide, both the tragedy of it and some people's fascination with it.
In this thriller, Det. Ret. (Detective, Retired) K. William Hodges frequently has suicide on his mind. His life doesn't seem to have much purposes since his retirement, he doesn't often see his old friends, and is largely estranged from his daughter. On top of that, several cases, still open when he left the police force, still weigh on him, especially the case of a man who plowed a Mercedes into a job fair crowd, killing eight and wounding many more.
Then, he receives a letter in the mail from the Mercedes Killer, bragging about the mass murder and taunting him. What ensues is as much a psychological battle as a mystery as Hodges pursues the killer, often breaking the law to do so.
This story is filled with well-rounded characters, complex motivations, and action. It's a powerful start to a fantastic trilogy.
Oh, and I also discovered after finishing the trilogy that there is a Mr. Mercedes television series I had no idea existed. With the first season out, I need to figure out where to see it, so I can binge watch it as soon as possible. The pictures of the cast even look close to how I imagined the characters.
In this, the second book of the Bill Hodges Trilogy, Bill and co. take a back seat to young teen Pete Saubers and villain Morris Bellamy. Of course, Hodges and Holly Gibney, now running an agency called Finders Keepers, of course play a significant role once the story gets rolling.
While suicide is still the primary theme of this series, Finders Keepers is also about literature and how stories can engross and shape minds. It starts with author John Rothstein, whose novels about a rebel named Jimmy Gold are hugely popular in the 50s and 60s. Rothstein then retires to a secluded home. He continues to write, but not to publish, neatly penning two new Jimmy Gold novels as well as poems and short stories in a series of Mokeskine notebooks.
Many years after Rothstein's death in 1978, Tom Saubers, Pete's father, is one of the people badly wounded in the Mercedes attack at the job fair. With his family struggling through the recession in 2010, Pete wishes he could help. Then, he discovers a trunk buried behind their home. In the trunk: The notebooks, and the money.
To say any more would be to go into too many spoilers. This is another gripping story and a worthy middle chapter to the Bill Hodges Trilogy.
And while Mr. Mercedes isn't the threat in Finders Keepers, he's there, waiting in the wings.
End of Watch
It just keeps coming back to that day at the job fair, and the Mercedes Massacre.
Six years have passed since Brady Hartsfield drove a gray Mercedes into a crowd of desperate job seekers, killing eight and injuring many others. A year later, he ended up in a mental hospital, first in a coma, then awake, but with severe brain damage, enough to keep him from going to trial for that and the attempted murder of thousands.
Now, in End of Watch, retired detective and co-owner of the investigative agency Finders Keepers learns about a murder suicide that tangentially points back to Hartsfield. As more clues come to light, it seems clear that Hartsfield is behind a series of suicides and attempted suicides, but how can that be possible, with him in a mental ward in a near-vegetative state? Thousands of lives could be on the line if Hodges, now deathly thin and ailing, can't figure it out, and stop the suicides in time.
Enough summary. This final book in the Bill Hodges Trilogy drew me right in. We find familiar and new characters we love and hate, all well-rounded with strong motivations. End of Watch adds a new element, psychic powers, likely brought on by an experimental drug, and it makes the story all the more terrifying.
The theme of suicide comes back strongly in this novel, and King includes a real suicide hotline number, 1-800-273-TALK.
End of Watch is a satisfying conclusion to the Bill Hodges Trilogy.
You should always learn something about writing with each book you read. The big take-away I got from the Bill Hodges Trilogy that I'd like to share with you all is this:
Keep your characters thinking.
They should make the best decisions they can based on their state at the time of the decision, and their intelligence. That makes them more compelling and can really ratchet up the tension.
In Mr. Mercedes, when you read Bill Hodges's first response to the Mercedes Killer via a website called Under Debbie's Blue Umbrella, you'll see what I mean.
I have new Cosplay by McCall's patterns to review, so look for that post soon!
If you'd like updates, and some free stories as well, subscribe to The Wild Steampunk Newsletter below.