‘Mr Mercedes’ by Stephen King: evil so well-written that I couldn’t abide with it.

A cat-and-mouse suspense thriller featuring Bill Hodges, a retired cop who is tormented by ‘the Mercedes massacre’, a case he never solved.

Brady Hartsfield, perpetrator of that notorious crime, has sent Hodges a taunting letter. Now he’s preparing to kill again.

Each starts to close in on the other in a mega-stakes race against time.


When the evil that Stephen King summons has supernatural roots: a hotel full of ghosts curdling a man’s soul, a clown in the gutter stalking children, a shop owner claiming to sell what you need while really peddling dependency, self-loathing and despair, or loved things that come back from the dead broken, I can immerse myself in the fear of the evil without feeling tainted by it. “Mr Mercedes” isn’t like that. It’s as skilfully told and as completely immersive as the best of his books but there’s nothing supernatural about the evil at its core; there’s just a man. An evil, twisted, broken, malicious man, shaped by guilt and maybe fear and powered by hate and anger and the need to be special. I believed in him completely and I found I couldn’t stand his company.

After five hours or so, I decided to set the audiobook aside. Brady Hartsfield, Mr Mercedes, was too toxic and too real for me to give him room inside my head. I felt as if I was letting Stephen King slowly drag the net of my imagination through Hartsfield’s sewer of a mind and I didn’t like the unclean things that were collecting there. I felt tainted by them.

It didn’t help that the only time that Stephen King let me up for air was to spend time with Bill Hodges a sometimes suicidal, divorced, retired detective who is estranged from his daughter, has no friends, has no clue about women and whose role seems to be to give me more details about Hartsfield’s crimes and the pain that they cause or provide Hartsfield with potential targets.

I was less than forty per cent through the book, so I was aware that the tone might change, that Hodges might be reinvigorated by his pursuit of Hartsfield and maybe even feel redeemed by it, that the good guys might start to win, that not everyone would get killed but I was certain that I would continue to dredge Hartsfield’s mind along the way and be contaminated by his cell-deep misanthropy. So, even though this is a well-loved series by a writer I enjoy and admire, I’m done with “Mr Mercedes”.

2 thoughts on “‘Mr Mercedes’ by Stephen King: evil so well-written that I couldn’t abide with it.

  1. Did you read long enough to meet Holly? She’s a young black woman with psych issues that begins to work with Hodges. She appears through the next two books with a bigger and bigger role and then she appears in The Outsider as well. Also, she’s in If It Bleeds.
    She is, hands down, one of my favorite King characters of all time.
    Sorry this one didn’t work for you. 😦

    Liked by 1 person

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