Review: Mr. Mercedes

I fell so far behind on book reviews since the beginning of October… I’ve been keeping notes so that I can try reviewing with my usual thoroughness, but it has been a hot minute since I read many of the books that I’ll be reviewing this month, so I might keep catch-up reviews a little briefer and stick to what I remember most strongly.

To start, I read Mr. Mercedes in early October with a buddy– we both wanted to get into this series (the Bill Hodges series, which is a sort of prequel to King’s 2018 release, The Outsider) and now we’re hooked. I’ve been too busy to continue the series immediately, but I have ordered the next book and am looking forward to it! My buddy reader is in the third book now and still loving the series, so I have high hopes.

mr.mercedesAbout the book: Detective Bill Hodges is retired, but a few unsolved cases continue to nag at him even though he’s not supposed to work on them any longer and has lost his access to police resources. When he receives a letter from Mr. Mercedes, the unknown culprit of a terrible hit-and-run case that left eight dead and another four wounded, he knows he should turn it in as evidence, but can’t shake the feeling that starting a private dialogue with the killer will provide more leads. Meanwhile, Mr. Mercedes continues to watch Hodges’ house, hoping that his gloating, accusatory letter will be just the thing to convince Hodges to commit suicide– adding another tally to Mr. Mercedes’s body count and eliminating the detective who lead investigations into his biggest crime. But if Hodges’s death doesn’t pan out, Mr. Mercedes has some other deadly ideas, and his recent conversation with Hodges might hold the only clues to stopping his plans.

“The truth is darkness, and the only thing that matters is making a statement before one enters it. Cutting the skin of the world and leaving a scar. That’s all history is, after all: scar tissue.”

I’ve seen Mr. Mercedes classified as mystery, thriller, and yes, horror, but I would say it’s a pretty straightforward crime novel. King always excels at characterization, and above all else, this book is an examination of character– of a heartless killer and of the bizarre cast of accomplices trying to thwart him. Often mystery novels that feature a whimsical band of misfits chasing a notorious criminal seem overly fabricated to me– the fact that these unique mystery solvers came together in the first place feels so constructed and unlikely (see Night Film). But Hodges’s friends are another story. Jerome is Hodges’s neighbor and already a friend before Mr. Mercedes comes along. Janey and Holly’s interest in the case makes perfect sense as they are relatives of one of Mr. Mercedes’s victims. Even the people Hodges interviews for clues act like real people, rather than the overly chatty sources of necessary info-dumping that mysteries often rely on. Each character and their motives are clear and distinct– including the killer’s.

That’s right, one of the highlights of Mr. Mercedes is that King provides plenty of perspective chapters direct from inside the mind of the killer. This is why I hesitate to call this novel a mystery or thriller; seeing this man’s side of the story takes out a high percentage of the guesswork and fright for the reader. We know where he is and what he’s doing. But I thought Mr. Mercedes’s sections of the book were highly engaging and indeed the most interesting parts of the book, so I didn’t mind learning early the identity of the killer. In my opinion, King does an excellent job of balancing the how’s and why’s, which lets him get away with offering the who’s and what’s at the front and center.

The only flaw for me was the increasing thinness of Hodges’ excuses for refusing to involve the police. What seemed a bad but understandable decision in the beginning eventually turns toward the unreasonable. When things really start going bad, he keeps going basically on momentum alone, and even though all the signs point to needing professional help and reinforcements, Hodges keeps refusing to do that. With more lives at stake, his excuses make less sense, and believability definitely takes a hit when his “assistants” start spouting their own flimsy excuses:

“Speaking carefully, enunciating each word as if to make up for what has probably been a lifetime of mumbling, Holly says, ‘No one can catch him but you.’ “

But those excuses come late in the game, and by that point I was almost too invested in the story to care why the “heroes” close themselves off so entirely. Perhaps with a little more attention to this question, King would’ve been able to provide a more satisfactory answer– the problem seemed more like an oversight than the product of poor planning or writing. Overall, this book was a fun time with a fascinating(ly dark) plot unlike anything I’ve encountered before, even in previous King novels.

My reaction: 5 out of 5 stars. This one isn’t going to be joining my all-time favorites list, but it is on my list of favorite King novels. It was a fast, interesting read that held my attention 100% from start to finish. I’ll definitely be reading on, though it might take me a couple of months to get around to it. October was a great time of year to start this series though, and I’m glad I finally picked it up. This one’s been sitting on my shelf since… probably 2013, so I’m glad I finally picked it up.

Further recommendations:

  • Robert Galbraith’s Career of Evil is actually the third book in what is currently a 4-book series by J. K. Rowling (Galbraith is a pen name). Unless you’re really into the will-they-won’t-they dynamic between the detective and his assistant, there’s really no reason to read the first two before this one, which was by far the strongest of the three that I’ve read so far. It also features interesting chapters from the killer’s perspective.
  • Caroline Kepnes’ YouAgain, if you like getting Mr. Mercedes’s whacked perspective, this is another fascinating story from the eyes of the deranged.

What’s your favorite Stephen King novel?

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

Advertisements

Book Haul 10.18

Just because I’ve been working basically 24/7 this month does not mean I haven’t also been stacking up some new books. In fact, book buying seems to be cathartic for me, and my reasoning for buying half of this list was: “Well, I’m not going to have time to read this, but book mail will make a few of my crappy days this month a little better so might as well.” When in doubt, buy books. (But seriously, I need to make a change.)

Here’s what I picked up in October:

  1. Milkman by Anna Burns. I’ve been loving the Man Booker longlist this year, so I’ve been buying several of those books (via Book Depository) that haven’t been released in the US yet. This is one of the titles that most intrigued me, and for good reason apparently– it won the Man Booker Prize for 2018! I did read Milkman in October, but I’ve been too busy to keep up with reviews so that’s still pending. This is an Irish novel about the power of community and one girl’s experience (or non-experience) with a high stakes affair. The prose style might be somewhat polarizing, but I absolutely loved it.
  2. Normal People by Sally Rooney. Another Man Booker longlist title that’s not yet available in the US. I haven’t gotten around to reading this one yet, but I will be picking it up very soon as it’s one of only two titles from the longlist that I have left at this point. I remember essentially nothing about the synopsis for this book other than that it’s about a relationship between two college students. This is another Irish novel, and I’m really looking forward to it.
  3. The Butterfly Garden by Dot Hutchinson. I ordered this one when Halloween reading fever hit. There were so many spooky/thrilling books I wanted to read this year and of course I didn’t have time for them all. Hardly any, really. I’m thinking I might still pick up some of the spooky reads I never seem to have time for in October either in November or January, because I do like horror and thrills and just don’t seem to give myself enough time to read them.
  4. All We Shall Know by Donal Ryan. This was my first AbeBooks purchase, a trial run before I go for any more expensive editions there. I chose a used copy of this book in “like new” condition, and though it was not quite as pristine as I was expecting from that description, it’s a decent copy in the right edition and it arrived even earlier than I was expecting. I loved Ryan’s From a Low and Quiet Sea earlier this year (also from the Man Booker longlist) and wanted this cover of All We Shall Know to sit next to it on my shelf. And, of course, I also just really want to read it.
  5. Lies We Told by Camilla Way. This is my Book of the Month selection for October, and if I’m disappointed with it, it will be the last thriller I ever get through BOTM (I might be done with BOTM very soon anyway). I am always drawn to thrillers, but I can’t think of a single BOTM thriller I’ve picked up this year that I’ve actually enjoyed, so I’m hoping this will be the exception. I believe it follows two characters in two separate timelines that eventually link together, and that’s all I know going in. I wanted to read this one in October but just didn’t have time with as much as I was working. I’m planning to read it in November.
  6. The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton. I added this one to my BOTM box at the last minute; I’m not sure what I’ll think about this one (though when am I ever really sure about how my experience with a book will go), but as I mentioned, I knew October was going to be a rough month for me, so I let myself buy an extra book. This one’s historical fiction, I believe with mystery and forbidden love elements. It seems like the sort of longer, more immersive story I like to pick up in colder weather.

bookhaul10.18

This is my first reasonably small haul in months, and I still didn’t manage to keep up with it. On the plus side, my book hauls this year have inspired my reading challenge goal for 2019, which I’m excited about switching to soon. And in the meantime… I’m really looking forward to reading more of these titles in November.

Have you read any of these books? What did you think?

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

Wrap-Up 10.18

I’m back! Not for long this time, but by sometime next week I should be back to my regular schedule for real and all the blog posts I’ve been neglecting. I cannot wait.

Personal Trends:

  • I’ve been working 80-hour weeks for most of October and have been home basically only to sleep, so I’ve had a severe drop in reading, writing, and internet time this month. It’s been a hard change, but it’s almost over now and the forced break has definitely renewed my interest in all things literary, so I’m looking forward to lots of bookish projects I’m hoping to fit in before the end of the year.
  • The Man Booker 2018 winner was announced this month, and I was actually taking a short break from reading the winning book when I checked online and found out it had won! That was fun. I’m still working through the longlist (3 left), but I’ve quite enjoyed reading them all this year. Half of my finished books this month were Man Booker shortlisters.

Book-to-Film Adaptations:

  • None that I completed in October, but I started 3 at the beginning of the month that I had to abandon to keep up with my work hours, and I’m planning to finish them up as soon as my schedule’s calmer, so there should be plenty of films here in November!

Finished Books:

  1. Sea Prayer by Khaled Hosseini. seaprayer4 stars. This is, without a doubt, the shortest book I’ve read all year. It took me maybe ten minutes to read, and most of that time was spent looking at the beautiful watercolor pictures. The story is a beautiful statement about refugee life, and if I remember correctly the proceeds are going to a refugee fund. I’m on board, but I think the beauty of this book is more in the statement it makes by existing than the small story written into the book. There was nothing I disliked about it, it just didn’t wow me as much as I expected based on previous experiences with this author and this book’s early reviews. I might post a short review with more thoughts.
  2. Washington Black by Esi Edugyan. washingtonblack3 stars. A Man Booker shortlisted novel. This one started out promising with whimsical inventions and hints at a wild adventure on the horizon, but it gradually lost my interest as the story progressed. It was an easy read that never quite lived up to its potential, and is quickly becoming the most forgettable title from the longlist for me. I always want to love historical fiction, but for some reason lately it ends up falling a little flat for me.
  3. Sadie by Courtney Summers. sadie4 stars. This one is a new YA release I’d had my eye on for months. It uses an interesting podcast format (which I’ve heard is great on Audiobook, but I always prefer reading visually so I went the traditional hardback route) to tell the story of one missing girl following the trail of her dead sister’s killer. I liked the back-and-forth perspectives and off-kilter chronology, but I did feel the format constricted the story a bit. Full review coming soon.
  4. Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King. mr.mercedes5 stars. I read this one with my Stephen King buddy reader, kind of unexpectedly. We had talked about it vaguely, and then all of a sudden it was “hey, you want to start?” “ok sure why not.” I had thought I would just dive right into King’s The Outsider this year and get to the related Bill Hodges trilogy later, but since I hadn’t gotten around to The Outsider yet anyway I changed my mind. This one is more crime than horror, but King’s character development is glorious as always and I think this is one of my King favorites– I’m looking forward to the rest of the trilogy. Full review coming soon.
  5. The Long Take by Robin Robertson. thelongtake4 stars. I don’t read a lot of poetry, though I have a lot of respect for writers who can keep their language succinct enough to fit into a poem. I’m glad the Man Booker list convinced me to pick this one up. I wasn’t completely impressed with the story line, but there were a ton of sentences and just small word combinations that I absolutely loved. Also, I have a (bad?) tendency to construct a mental sort of foggy outline that suffices as a backdrop for plots, but without as much plot to focus on in this book I was able to really look at the cities being described and I had great visuals for all of them. Full review coming soon.
  6. Milkman by Anna Burns. milkman5 stars. This is the Man Booker shortlist novel I was reading when it was announced as the winner. This is an incredibly unique book– or I should say it is a book of incredibly unique prose. I wasn’t sure at first how I was going to make it through 300+ pages of Burns’ distinct style, but within 50 pages I had fallen completely in love with it and it has been my favorite read from the Man Booker longlist so far. Full review coming soon.
  7. The Overstory by Richard Powers. theoverstory3 stars. This is the only book on the Man Booker longlist that I’ve been pretty sure from the beginning that I wouldn’t really like. And of course, it was the longest one, at just over 500 pages. But I actually really enjoyed most of it; the characters were interesting and diverse, and even the tree trivia kept me entertained. I am glad that I didn’t have time for the internet while reading this one though– I usually prefer to look up things I’m not familiar with when I’m reading; it would’ve been tempting to look up all the trees I didn’t know specifically, but it would have taken way too long. The story took an unfortunate turn toward anti-climactic in the last third that undid some of my earlier enjoyment of it. Full review coming soon.
  8. Red Dragon by Thomas Harris. reddragon3 stars. Last year I read Harris’s The Silence of the Lambs in Halloween week, and ever since I’ve been intending to read another book from the Hannibal Lecter trilogy this Halloween. I had lots of good intentions this October that didn’t pan out… but I did manage to stick with this goal. It didn’t seem quite as polished and interconnected as The Silence of the Lambs, but this one was still a perfectly disturbing Halloween read, and I’ll round out the trilogy next year. Full review coming soon.

Honorable Mention:

  • The Bachman Books by Richard Bachman (aka Stephen King). This is a collection of four (short?) novels, and by the end of the month I’ve read two: Rage and The Long Walk. The entire book is over 700 pages and those first two titles were the ones I was most interested in, so I didn’t quite finish the book before the end of the month. I’ll have more to say about all four of these stories in a full review soon, but they’ll count as “finished” in next month’s wrap-up.

Some Stats:

  • Average Rating – 3.9
  • Best of the Month – Milkman
  • Worst of the Month – Washington Black
  • Books Hauled – 6, because #7 was apparently lost in the mail. My October haul will be my next post.
  • Owned Books Read for the First Time – 3. I read a lot of library books this month, so my TBR grew again by 3 books even though I finally managed to keep my buying down to a reasonable number. Oh well. Life is better with plenty to read.
  • Total Read in 2018 – 98 books. I’m comfortably over my Goodreads challenge goal of 90 books, will easily break 100, and will probably top last year’s total of 112. Stay tuned to find out…

How was your October? What’s the creepiest book you read this year?

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant