Cover photo* by Caras Ionut
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Published: 3 June 2014
On the cover:
A riveting cat-and-mouse suspense thriller about a retired cop and a couple of unlikely allies who race against time to stop a lone killer intent on blowing up thousands.
Retired homicide detective Bill Hodges is haunted by the few cases he left open, and by one in particular: in the pre-dawn hours hundreds of desperate people were lined up for a spot at a jobs fair in the distressed Midwestern city were he worked. Without warning, a lone driver ploughed through the crowd in a stolen Mercedes. Eight people were killed, fifteen wounded. The Killer escaped.
Months later, on the other side of the city, Bill Hodges gets a taunting letter in the mail, from a man claiming to be the perpetrator. Hodges wakes up from his depressed and vacant retirement, hell-bent on preventing that from happening.
Brady Hartsfield lives with his alcoholic mother in the house where he was born. And he is preparing to kill again.
Hodges, with a couple of misfit friends, must apprehend the killer in a high-stakes race against time. Because Brady's next mission, if it succeeds, will kill or maim hundreds, even thousands.
This novel has more in common with King's Hard Case Crime novel Joyland than with most of his other novels. That is to say it is a Crime novel, unashamedly so. (Although it is easy at this point to argue that Stephen King Novel is really it's own literary subgenre.) If you have read Joyland, you will be well aware that King can pull of an excellent Crime novel when he tries. He certainly makes an effort to do so here.
At first glance there is not much that is new here. The detective coming out of retirement to solve a large case is not exactly a new invention when it comes to Crime. There are some fresh elements in this novel though, mostly his two helpers. The first one, Jerome, seems at first to be a token Computer Whiz Kid, but he turns out to have a much larger part in what is to enfold than what can be suspected from our first meeting with him. The second one, Holly, -well- it's hard to say much about her without giving anything away. It will have to suffice to say that she is hardly a typical character, she has greater complexity than most "sidekicks".
Bill himself is perhaps closer to the faulty Noir Crime detective, but he has something extra to him too. And his role in the final showdown is certainly a novel one, and it comes with its own share of suspense as to where we will see the character end up.
There is one point at which this novel is much the same as other King novels, it has King's trademark build-up. We really get to know the characters and their situations. Here that includes Brady, the titular character - and the story's villain. In some ways it is Brady that we come closest too, it is him that we get the most intimate details about. He is never sympathetic though, King tells his story without making you feel sorry for him.
This means that there is absolutely no suspense in who the killer is, but there doesn't need to be any either. It is not what the narrative is going for, and I can't see that this story would be improved by not knowing who the heroes are looking for.
The paragraphs above makes for four main characters, which could be a bit much if every character got the same space. There is however a focus on Brady and Bill. We do not get to see much from other viewpoints, and neither do we have to. Aside from these four there are several other characters in supporting roles, they are all well realised. King once again shows us he can do very good characters, and let us get really close to them as we follow their story.
One character did however cause a problem for me, that character is Janey. She is absolutely a good character, and she does come off as someone you would like to spend time with. However there is a part of her story that I felt was a bit cheap. Too easy, and not really up to the standard of the rest of the book. (It will be obvious what I mean if you read the book.) I don't really know if what I am talking about could be done differently without changing other events around, but what happened did feel like a bit of a letdown. This did not majorly effect my experience though, it just made it a little less of a perfect novel.
When it comes to the level of suspense, King is masterful as always. The novel starts out with a tense and eerie prologue. After that the tension soon starts to build gradually. By the time you get towards the end of the book you'll most likely be on tenterhooks. The last one hundred pages almost left me breathless. At that point the level of suspense is off the charts. This might not be Horror, but it doesn't really hold back in creating the feeling the constant reader will be familiar with from king's other work.
To sum up, I found this to be an excellent King novel. Apart from the small flaw mentioned above, there is nothing wrong here in my opinion. This should be excellent reading for any Crime fan, and I will also recommend this highly to King's SFF fans. It is simply a wonderfully told story that should appeal to anyone who wants some suspense when they sit down to read.
* The cover of the edition I have is actually a special cover only available in-store at UK's WH Smith High Street stores. It has a colour difference, and looks like this:
STEPHEN KING REVIEW INDEX.
LINKS: Stephen King Hodder & Stoughton Hodderscape