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?