In the frigid pre-dawn hours, in a distressed Midwestern city, hundreds of desperate unemployed folks are lined up for a spot at a job fair. Without warning, a lone driver plows through the crowd in a stolen Mercedes, running over the innocent, backing up, and charging again. Eight people are killed; fifteen are wounded. The killer escapes.
In another part of town, months later, a retired cop named Bill Hodges is still haunted by the unsolved crime. When he gets a crazed letter from someone who self-identifies as the "perk" and threatens an even more diabolical attack, Hodges wakes up from his depressed and vacant retirement, hell-bent on preventing another tragedy.
Brady Hartfield lives with his alcoholic mother in the house where he was born. He loved the feel of death under the wheels of the Mercedes, and he wants that rush again.
Only Bill Hodges, with a couple of highly unlikely allies, can apprehend the killer before he strikes again. And they have no time to lose, because Brady’s next mission, if it succeeds, will kill or maim thousands.
Mr. Mercedes is a war between good and evil, from the master of suspense whose insight into the mind of this obsessed, insane killer is chilling and unforgettable.
***small spoiler alert***
**points up** Yep, the synopsis pretty much covers it.
Bill has retired, and spends the better part of his days watching tv and playing with his dad’s old gun, working himself up to suicide, as many retired public servants do. Receiving Brady’s taunting letter acted on Bill like a jolt from a taser. He is unwilling to involve his old partner and the police department and is instead investigating on his own. During the “City Centre Massacre” Brady used a Mercedes that he lifted from an Olivia Trelawney, who has since committed suicide herself. Bill and his partner had questioned her extensively, because the Mercedes was not hotwired - Brady used the key.
Olivia insisted that she had not left her key in the car, which only caused the cops to dig deeper. Olivia had a fragile mind to begin with, and Bill was not surprised when she took her own life. He and his partner never fully believed that she didn’t have something to do with the killings, either through deliberate intent or her own neglect. He makes contact with Olivia’s sister, Janey, who has inherited all of Olivia’s considerable assets. He is surprised when she reveals that Olivia also received a mysterious letter from the killer. Janey wishes to clear her sister’s name; she strongly suspects that the killer’s guilt trippy letter and Olivia’s continued contact with him caused her to kill herself. Bill doesn’t tell Janey that he has gotten a letter as well, but takes a copy of the one that she has and starts investigating.
In the letter that Bill received (and Olivia’s as well), Brady mentions a website where they can chat, saying that he made a username for him. He followed the same method with Olivia’s letter, so Bill starts there. He enlists Jerome, a college bound teenager to help him. Jerome is the kid-next-door character: he cuts Bill’s grass, helps him when he jams up his email, etc. Jerome is a great character. He is an upper middle class African American, but delights in talking with Bill (whom he considers his friend, as well as occasional employer) in either the patois of the Deep South or as a gangbanger. It’s a joke between them, and it’s a damn funny one. Jerome is scarily smart, and Bill talks to him as he would his old partner, bouncing the heavily edited situation off of him to get his opinion. I’m looking forward to seeing how closely they work together. Hopefully there won’t be any repercussions (like Brady killing him or his family) in the process. Stephen King is great at characters like Jerome - you like them right from the start, but you can’t help but read them with caution. Don’t get too attached, you tell yourself, he’s wearing a red shirt - there’s no way this guy is gonna live to the end of the book - he’s too cool.
Brady, on the other hand - this guy is a few fries short of a Happy Meal. He works two jobs - a day job at a big box store (it’s Best Buy) called Discount Electronix and as the ice cream man. He lives with his mom who is….just….ugh, I don’t know how to properly convey my disgust. He tells Olivia in his letter to her that his dad or stepdad abused him, and when his mother found out she “joined in on the fun!” Now, I don’t know if this is true, or if he said this for Olivia’s benefit, but his relationship with his mother is NOT normal, Norman. She’s an alkie, which isn’t too surprising, and the way she acts towards him makes me think that there may be some truth in his accusations. What’s even more disturbing is that Brady himself is, unwillingly it seems, aroused by her as well. You get the feeling that he’s got reasons for being as f***ed up as he is, not that that’s an excuse.
Bill and Janey visit Janey’s mom in the nursing home. The old lady tells Bill that Frankie, Olivia’s “pen-pal on the internet” was the one who convinced her to stop taking her anti depression meds, leading to her suicide. She also mentions that Olivia would hear the baby (the one that was killed at the massacre) crying in the house when she was alone, and that she could hear the mother of the baby as well, accusing her. We don’t know if this was all in her head, or if Brady had some sort of recording going on to torture her. Bill is playing cat and mouse with Brady on the website, leaving him a message that he doesn’t believe that he is the real killer. Brady is incensed with the dismissal, and plots how to get back at Bill. He considers killing Jerome’s dog Odell as a message, but figures that Bill would know it was him, and would make the connection.
Brady is still very up in the air at the moment, while Bill is slowly getting more information. Bill and Janey start a physical relationship, and he tells her all of the story, including the letter that he received from the killer. The next day Bill leaves Brady another taunting message on the website, which does exactly what he hoped it would - sends Brady into a fit of rage. He answers back with what appears to be a not preplanned response - it’s full of vitriol and misspellings. I wonder if this will bring about bad consequences for Jerome or others around Bill. Brady has spotted Bill’s car outside of Janey’s but figures he must have just been questioning her.
If anyone ever wondered if Stephen King has mellowed over the years: the answer is no, if anything he has gotten more and more vicious with his characters.
Brady ultimately decides to go through with the idea of killing Jerome’s dog with poisoned hamburger meat. He orders the poison, but is angered enough that he purchases the poison at a home improvement store there in town before the one he ordered arrives. He buys the meat, mixes it up, and stores it in a mini fridge in the garage. This is what he calls “his fridge” as he only ever keeps soft drinks in there, and his mom never touches it. Well, guess what, she did. He wound up coming home one day to find her dying on the living room couch, a half eaten poisoned hamburger on the coffee table. He tries to help her at first, but realizing that he cannot call 911, he goes down to his control room in the basement until enough time has passed that he is sure that she is dead. He moves her body upstairs to her room and shuts the door. You find out more about him during this episode.
His dad was a lineman for the power company, and he was electrocuted on the job. When the money started to run out from the insurance for his dad’s death his mom, Deborah, had to return to work as a hairdresser. He once had a little brother named Frankie, who choked on an apple slice, and nearly died. When he was revived there was brain damage, which gave Deborah more and more problems holding a job, as finding care for him was damn near impossible. She and Brady already had an unusual relationship by this point; he was acting as the “man of the house” and she was reinforcing that thought. They wound up killing his little brother, kicking him down the stairs to break his neck and calling it in as an accident. This left them to continue their strange relationship without witnesses. After his mother’s death, Brady is just biding time to his suicide. He wants to go out as messily and with as many casualties as possible. He has a suicide vest that he has constructed with plastic explosive, and finds out that a popular boy band has a sold out concert coming to town soon. He plots to get into the show, wait for the most popular song, and set the vest (and himself) off in a huge blast, taking as many teenagers with him as he can. But before he does that, he reasons, he has to take care of the cop.
On Bill’s front: Janey’s mother has died, and he is helping her with the funeral arrangements and dealing with the nasty relatives coming in for the funeral. They have a dinner with Jerome, so all parties are up to date on exactly what is going on, Jerome is all in on this deal now. Bill tells him of his suspicions that Olivia’s computer was bugged, they make plans for him to go to Olivia’s old home to check it out. But then Janey’s mom dies, so that plan happens, but not as quickly as they thought. You are introduced to Holly, Janey’s cousin, who came in with her nasty mom and dad. Holly is unstable, twitchy, very much like Olivia. Bill is kind to her; he finds her outside of the funeral home at the visitation, smoking and freaking out because she doesn’t want to be in the same room as a dead body. He makes sure that the body is not present at the funeral the next day to make her more comfortable. Holly takes a shine to Bill, which you get the feeling is not something that happens often. It’s a good thing that another female character is introduced just then, because next you are hit with a twist that I didn’t see coming.
Janey is killed in a car bomb meant for Bill.
I did not expect him to kill off one of the main characters! That was a total shock. See what I mean about him getting more vicious?
I had to check and make sure I was not reading a George R.R. Martin novel….. lol
Bill is devastated, of course, but is more determined than ever to catch Brady, and he tells himself that he is not giving this one to the police for the takedown - now it’s personal.
Jerome and Holly have contact when he goes over the Olivia’s old house (where she and her family are staying) to check out the computer. They get along well, and it’s revealed that Holly is a whiz with computers, despite her social problems. They find a slave program on Olivia’s old computer that would randomly start up with a crying baby, and a woman screaming various phrases related to the massacre (Why did you let him kill my baby?). So, Olivia really was hearing ghosts. They find that the program was remotely turned off after Olivia’s death. Jerome and Bill reach the conclusion that Olivia’s IT guy was from Discount Electronix. There was no address or business card for an independent to be found in her home, and they reasoned it unlikely that he would break back in to steal it after her death. When they get to the store, they find Holly already there, having come to the same conclusion. They question Brady’s co workers, and they give them his address.
They arrive at Brady’s house, break in and find his mom rotting upstairs and his bank of computers in the basement. They narrowly avoid losing all of the data thanks to Brady’s voice-command suicide program. I’ll give him one thing, Brady isn’t stupid. They look around and find the makings of the bomb materials, but have no clue if or when or where he will strike. They decamp back to Bill’s place with Deborah’s laptop. Holly hope to be able to crack the password. Bill is still struggling with wanting to call his old partner and turn it all into him. Brady, on the other hand, has ditched his car in an airport parking lot, perfected his disguise and the bomb, and is in a hotel, awaiting the start of the boy band concert at the MAC, the arts center. He has a wheelchair packed with c4 in the seat and bags of ball bearings strapped underneath, to maximise the damage. He leaves Bill one last message on the computer, effectively telling him it will all be over soon.
Back at Bill’s Holly cracks the password just as they are about to give up. Bill and Jerome find that there will be another job fair on Saturday, and think that this is what Brady plans to hit. They book it back to Brady’s place and boot up his control center, only to find their worst fears come true: he bought a ticket for the concert. Jerome’s mother and little sister and a group of her friends are going to the concert as well. When Bill attempts to call it into the force he finds out that there has been a huge weapons bust across town: he will get no help there, all of the cops are involved with that. If they stop Brady, it will be on their own. Jerome tries frantically to reach them on the phone, but has no luck. They haul ass across town and go in the back of the building, manage to convince the roadies and security that there is a problem.
Bill sits down in the back, in the middle of a heart attack right at the crucial moment. He sends Holly in with Jerome, because he would recognize Jerome. (Jerome figured out Brady’s second job as the ice cream man) Holly is the only one of them he hasn’t seen. Bill gives her a weapon he calls the Happy Slapper, which is ball bearings packed into a sock - very effective weapon - and gives Jerome his gun. They race through the back to the auditorium, by now having figured out that he will be in a wheelchair. They find him just before he is about to flip the switch. Holly clocks Brady upside his head twice with the happy slapper, and Jerome grabs his hands away so that he can’t flip the switch. She pulls the battery out of the detonator, killing it, and saving an auditorium full of teenage girls.
Epilogue - some weeks later.
Holly and Jerome were honored by the mayor for their actions. Bill survived his heart attack, and while they didn’t bring any charges against him for messing around in police business, he did get a tongue lashing (he came out alright in the end.) Holly is now living on her own in Janey’s old apartment, and doing well, mentally. She and Jerome are close, and if it wasn’t for the fact that she’s 45 and he’s not quite out of high school I wouldn’t have been surprised to find a romance between them. Brady on the other hand is in a coma, and for all accounts is expected to stay that way.
At the very last paragraph of the book he wakes up, with a headache and asking for his mom.
Everytime I read one of Stephen King’s books I find myself loving it. I have been fighting with myself lately over my habit of always giving certain authors five star carte blanche, but once again I find that it has been earned, and earned well. I’ve seen a lot of reviews saying that people found this book boring, or predictable, but I found the opposite to be true, so…. #UnashamedFangirl.
Until next time!