King, Stephen: Mr. Mercedes (2014)

This is the first time I ever picked up a Stephen King novel and I must say: I was disappointed. Sure, I didn’t expect it to be a piece of great literature. But as Mr. King does have a reputation for being a brilliant author who writes suspenseful and thrilling fiction, I was definitely expecting more.

The novel starts out interesting enough, describing the scene in which the title giving villain turns a job fare for the truly hopeless into a massacre. A brief insight into the lives the victims led previously to being slaughtered generates sympathy and illustrates the extent of Mr. Mercedes’ depravity.

Unfortunately, this is really all there is to King’s villain. He’s bad to his very core, which makes him unbearably one-dimensional. And as if that in itself wasn’t enough, the novel is about to take the reader on a trip to an exhibition of what reads like Freud’s cabinet of everything that could be wrong with you because of your relationship to your mother & other factors that will turn you into a fucked up psychopath eventually. Seriously. Everything. Because one psychological issue is just never enough, right?

The following list contains spoilers, feel free to skip it.

  • The villain still lives at home. With his mother. Of course.
  • The mother is an alcoholic. Of course.
  • The villain doesn’t have any friends or other stable relationships with anyone but his mother. 
  • He works two shitty jobs that he hates.
  • The villain has sexual fantasies about his mother. Of course.
  • The villain’s mother actually lets him have sex with her. Ewww!
  • The villain doesn’t have any hobbies. Of course.
  • His only interests are killing people and thinking about new ways to kill more people. Of course. A true villain is a full-time villain, who thinks about villain-y things in his spare time.
  • He also killed his brother.
  • And ends up killing his own mother.

…get the picture? If you read the list, that is. If you didn’t, let me just say: the villain doesn’t even possess one shred of a likeable personality trait. I would argue that he doesn’t even have much of a personality at all apart from being a villain. This type of stock character is perfectly acceptable in fairy tales and children’s literature, but in a crime novel / thriller that is clearly written for adults, it simply isn’t.

All the other characters are by far better written than Mr. Mercedes. Bill Hodges, the protagonist, for example is portrayed as a good guy, who has many strengths. But he also has some very obvious flaws that make him into a believable and likeable character. I’m not saying that I would want Mr. Mercedes to be an extremely likeable character, but it would’ve been nice to have been given an opportunity to feel some degree of sympathy for him.

One other thing I didn’t enjoy while reading the novel is the disproportionate amount of foreshadowing King felt necessary to provide. The novel rarely – if ever – took me by surprise as it is. I didn’t need any extra hints as to what was going to happen eventually. Whenever one of them entered my field of vision, I felt like an interlude was in order. A few portentous notes on the piano. You know – the kind of music they play in horror films while they show the axe-wielding maniac approaching the stupid, bosomy cheerleader. She doesn’t notice, but we, the audience, know. Da-da-da-DA!

All in all, it wasn’t a bad novel, even though it does have some seriously flawed elements. It is just that I had higher hopes for it, all of which were cruelly crushed. Maybe this just isn’t King’s best novel, maybe he’s burnt himself out a little after publishing what probably comes close to 20.000 pages of fiction – if not more. Is that it? I would love to hear your opinion in the comment section!

Are you a Stephen King fan?

Have you read Mr. Mercedes?

Did you like it?

If you did read it – will you / have you also read the sequel?


9 thoughts on “King, Stephen: Mr. Mercedes (2014)

  1. Hi, said it already on Facebook, but will say it here again: I think, first of all, King used to be better. The qualitiy of his writing fluctuates excesively and for every brilliant story he creates there are at least three others that leave you completely confused and disappointed (sometimes even the great ones’ endings will do that to you).
    Secondly, after having read your review, I suppose what might have made the novel worse is that King sometimes forgets that there is a difference between horror and crime/thriller. In a horror story you need a monster. You need something thats ultimately evil and scary, because in the end those things will represent your deepest subconscious fears and not a real thing. With crime literature, things are different: Just as you said it, you need the character to be more three-dimensional, you need to be able to at least partly sympathise with them in order to show how creepy the world actually surrounding you can become. And King keeps mixing those two genres which doesn’t really add up most of the times.
    So, I completely get what you are saying and are probably grateful that you spared me from wasting my time with this book:-) I’m curious if you will give Mr.King another chance and looking forward to your next review!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Huh – interesting! You could be right about the problem being his attempt at mixing genres. Maybe that also explains the weird unnecessary foreshadowing?
      As to your question: yes…since this was part one of a trilogy, I obviously read part two as well. I just finished reading Finders Keepers two days ago. It’s better than Mr. Mercedes in some ways but not others. I’m actually not at all sad about the fact that part three isn’t out yet. 😉


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