Thursday, March 16, 2017

BOOK REVIEW: The Bill Hodges Trilogy by Stephen King

I enjoyed reading my first book by Stephen King last year, which was the time-travel thriller 11/22/63 about the  assassination of President John F. Kennedy. I decided then that I was interested in looking at reading other books by King if they fit into some of the genres that I regular read: science fiction, mystery/thriller. What I discovered was the Bill Hodges trilogy, consisting of Mr. MercedesFinders Keepers and End of Watch. The trilogy is being adapted for television by David E. Kelley (Big Little Lies, The Practice, Ally McBeal, L.A. Law) into a 10-episode series to air on the Audience Network. Below you can find my reviews of the entire trilogy, which I read earlier this year.

Mr. Mercedes is a mystery thriller and adventure caper all in one. The book begins with a horrific scene of a large Mercedes sedan deliberately plowing into a long line of people waiting to be considered for jobs in a financially distressed town.

I love the trio of  characters the story is built around: Holly Gibney, a emotionally disturbed 40-something loner, Bill Hodges, a 60-something retired ex-cop and Jerome Robinson, 17-year old 6-foot-5 African-American honors student, The three work as a team of sleuths trying to stop a mass murderer from graduating to historic levels of domestic terrorism and mayhem. The mass murderer is Brady Hartsfield, who we soon learn is maniac responsible for the Mercedes incident which killed about a dozen people and injured even more.

Parts of the book are definitely formulaic but since this is Stephen King one never is sure if ANY of his characters are safe. He kills off a fairly major character every 75 pages or so and this is only a 400-page book! This raises the level of suspense to heart-stopping levels in the denouement because who knows, King is such a horror writer that you suspect he might just blow up 4,000 screaming tweeny bop girls.

I believe Mr. Mercedes will make a heckuva movie and maybe win Tilda Swinton another Best Supporting Actress Oscar for playing Holly Gibney.

I'm very psyched that it looks like the three main characters (Holly, Jerome and Bill) will be in the second (and third?) book in this series, even though the trilogy as a whole is known as the Bill Hodges trilogy.

Definitely looking forward to reading the whole thing!

Title: Mr. Mercedes.
Stephen King
Paperback: 448 pages.
Date Published: June 3, 2014.
Date Read: February 13, 2017.

GOODREADS RATING: ***** (5.0/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: A/A- (3.83/4.0).


Finders Keepers is not as effective as the first book in the trilogy (Mr. Mercedes which was a clear five-star tour de force.) This sequel is at least as intensely suspenseful as the first book but suffers in comparison because our main characters (Bill Hodges, Jerome Robinson and Holly Gibney) from the first book play less of a role in the story here. The book begins with a horrific home invasion and torture kidnapping of a world-famous, reclusive author. (Hey, I guess Stephen King took the adage "write what you know" very seriously!

This time we still get to see the inner monologue and perspective of the main villain/antagonist but while in Finders Keepers the protagonist  was Bill Hodges, this time it is someone new, a 17 year-old boy named Peter Saubers who makes an astonishing discovery in the woods that allows him to help his troubled family survive a difficult period (which happened as a result of the actions of Brady Hartsfield from Mr. Mercedes).

I must admit the device of showing us the thoughts and actions of the perpetrators along with those hunting them heightens the suspense to dizzying levels and makes the entire trilogy very compelling.

King does an excellent job of putting us in the mind of a 17-year-old who is in a perilous and precarious situation way above his head.

However in the end I was disappointed by two particular aspects of the book. The first was the VERY problematic incorporation of supernatural events at the end of the book. Secondly, I also feel like Jerome and Holly got short shrift in the sequel since they were my favorite characters from the first book.

Clearly characterization is not a strong point of King's (to call Peter Saubers' parents ciphers is too kind) but the world-famous author is also obviously making some larger point about the dangers of excessive fandom with the way how fictional reclusive author John Rothstein is treated in the book.

Finders Keepers is almost impossible to put down once you're sucked in (basically from the thrilling prologue). At one point I gasped aloud so dramatically (I finished the book on a plane) that my seat mate stirred and asked me what was wrong. "Nothing," I replied "This book!"


Title: Finders Keepers.
Stephen King.
Paperback: 448 pages.
Date Published: June 2, 2015.
Date Read: February 17, 2017.

GOODREADS RATING: **** (4.5/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: A- (3.67/4.0).


The third book End of Watch in the Bill Hodges trilogy is the weakest of the three books that began with Mr. Mercedes and continued in Finders Keepers. The first is probably 5-stars and the second was well over 4.5 stars. These first two books in the Bill Hodges series worked exceedingly well as both suspense/thrillers and mystery/police procedurals.

I'm not a fan of the horror genre that I assume is what Stephen King is most known for (Carrie,The Shining, Misery, etc). This is the fourth of his books that I have read in the last year or so and I am beginning to appreciate how lots of people are fans of his work. All the books I have read are well-crafted with propulsive plots and often-clever characterizations.

End of Watch suffers from King's reliance on a metaphysical (i.e. supernatural/or fantastical) plot device that completely changes the genre of the book from its predecessors. In my opinion, this is a bad authorial decision.

However the book still succeeds as a thriller (this is clearly the primary strength of all of King's wring) and it definitely engages the reader by continuing to follow the characters of Holly Gibney, Bill Hodges and Jerome Robinson whose well-being we have been invested in since the first book (Mr. Mercedes).

I do hope that Mr. King makes more forays into the mystery-thriller genre while resisting the urge to indulge in adding supernatural elements in the future. It would be great to spend more time with Holly and Jerome!

Title: End of Watch.
Stephen King.
Paperback: 448 pages.
Date Published: June 7, 2016.
Date Read: March 1, 2017.

GOODREADS RATING: **** (4.0/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: A-/B+ (3.5/4.0).


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