STEPHEN KING – THE BILL HODGES TRILOGY – VOLUME ONE – MR
MERCEDES – 2014
Don't believe all the book says. There are
some mistakes like for instance the illegality of being able to read all
formats from all zones on one DVD reader. Such a machine exists: it is produced
by Sony, made in Malaysia
and distributed to the whole world from Chicago
by, among others I guess, Amazon. At least the one I have came that way and was
delivered to me by Amazon.fr. Some other elements from police speak are not
always listed in various sites or glossary on the subject. He seems to be using
some shortened forms that are popular in his own living circles. For example
"to steal the peek." It refers to what is called "passive
keyless entry and start" or PKES and the "signal" used to
operate it can be captured from a short distance. As for the expression
"stealing the peek" it does not seem to exist as such. Yet it now
But apart from that the book is not a
glossary of police speak, nor an urban dictionary of crime speak. It is a book
in the line of several books Stephen King has recently written that have to do
with some kind of criminal, some form of crime, and catching the former or
stopping the latter. Here we are dealing with a serial offender who is turning
into a serial mass murderer. That is in no way terrorism and critics like Chuck
Bowen in Slant Magazine, House Next Door are totally wrong when they define the
book as a cop-and-terrorist thriller. Terrorism implies some political aim and
in this case the man is deranged and nothing but a sociopath and psychopath.
The Unibomber was a terrorist since he had a political agenda. But here Stephen
King defines his criminal as a "mad bomber" and that does not make
him a terrorist.
It is a thriller that does not use in any way
supernatural or fantastic means like for instance in Doctor Sleep that deals
with a band of criminals who are in a way living dead people and some kind of
vampires though they do not drink blood but vital energy. It is in the line of
Joyland in which a simple young man is tracking and bringing out and down a
serial killer. Stephen King is thus in line with some of the books he has
written before, though this one is original because it uses an ex-cop, a
retired detective as the main character though Stephen King adds to this man an
underage high school student and a psychologically deranged middle age woman
who is somewhere between neurosis, psychosis and autism, definitely compulsive
obsessive and yet sane enough to be of great help and to manage to get out of
the super low state of mind and extreme dependence she is in at the beginning
and reach some independence and equilibrium at the end.
The main criminal, aka Mr. Mercedes, is a
psychopath and sociopath but as the result of an intense and prolonged trauma
that started when his younger brother came into the picture and when their
father got out of it leaving their mother with two sons, no income or nearly
none, and the younger son is slightly retarded. Misery, poverty and later on
the assassination of the younger son after a dumb accident in which the child
chokes on a slice of apple and his mother aggravates the situation by trying to
get the slice out of his larynx with her fingers instead of using the Heimlich
maneuver. Stephen King knows everything about Heimlich and his maneuver since
he used it in Christine. Thus it is a choice leading to drastic elimination.
The assassination is performed on the incoherent child after his being brought
back to life by doctors with a severe mental impairment by his mother and his
Then there is an allusion to a stepfather
who took to using his stepson as a sexual toy torturing him too with cigarettes
and other elements that are not mentioned. The mother took part in the
victimization that implied rape even if it is only alluded to. The child
becomes an adult for sure but attached to his mother and his mother considers
him as a sexual partner, a surrogate to a man who would be her husband or
lover, though with strict limits: she is the onanistic tool of the grown man. I
would say this long lasting trauma can only produce the asocial psychopath we
have in the book, though it is a little bit easy on the inside. The pattern of
a stepfather and a mother victimizing the stepson (and son) is a little bit simple.
We are spared though the direct gay sexuality which would not have been in
anyway sane and the result of a choice, though he is clearly described as a
closet-homo who hates women, especially young women and teenage girls Most of
his direct victims are women, at times unwillingly on his part but women
nevertheless. The last crime he plans is a mass murder of essentially teenage
girls and chaperoning mothers.
What is particularly catching, appealing in
the book is what Chuck Bowen hates. The writing is in a language that borrows a
lot from colloquial discourse and even social dialect. His high school senior
Jerome, a black teenager, uses a lot of linguistic ebonics in his discourse and
this is quite typical of that black young man whose family members have typical
Caucasian, hence American names and he wants to go to Harvard. He is the victim
of quite a lot of racial prejudice in the mild ostracism that has taken the
place of open segregative rejection of previous decades but that is rejection
nevertheless. To compensate for this rejection, and to assert his blackness,
with some white people he is in regular contact, he uses ebonics. This is
natural and even both sane and healthy. That's some kind of homeopathic
medicine to overcome and tolerate any kind of bigotry, present or only intended
The retired detective, Kermit William
Hodges, is also quite typical of people in his situation. He is alone and he
easily slips into some fattening life style that leads him to overweight and a
coronary accident at the end. He has abandoned all sexual activity that implies
a partner. In other words he is a social and psychological wreck. All the
easier for him to jump on the bandwagon of some police work on the side of
official duties, hence to become an uncle. Since the criminal is making it a
personal case against him he reacts in the very same way and makes it a
personal case against the criminal. Nothing new under the sun. Circumstances
just add some more disinterest from the official police department of the city
that sidetracks him into being his own master in clandestine police work.
Circumstances (his heart attack) will enable him not to perform the last stage
of the neutralization of the criminal.
The writing itself is split into short
sequences jumping from one character to the other, from the retired detective
to the criminal essentially but not only. This is cinematographic writing of
course, which makes this novel into an easily adaptable story for a film. But
that is the way all modern writers write today with TV and cinema in mind.
Chuck Bowen has it wrong: most modern novels have that structure of an
unfinished scenario and that cannot be considered as a shortcoming because it
corresponds to the viewing habits of a modern audience who watches TV series
and films all the time, stories that are more and more exploded into some kind
of mosaic of short sequences.
This very story line is catching and
appealing. We get into the story and then we are in a way mesmerized by the
story telling. We can maybe say everything is understandable before it happens
and we can foresee every event. That is true and false. At every crucial point
in the novel we can see the options that are available to the author. It is
true most of the time what the author chooses is among these options, but it is
only one option in a set of several. The end is predictable and yet apart from
the idea that the criminal will be stopped, we cannot really predict how,
where, when and by whom before it happens. The very conclusion of the novel is
tremendously moving. We cannot resist thinking of Misery, though the cruelty
against Retired Detective K. William Hodges is a lot less intense than that
described in that older novel. The book altogether is more luminous than older
books and is in the line of Joyland as for this luminosity. That is probably
the element that could be regretted: the brutal rude cruelty of the Richard
Bachman side of Stephen King. He seems to have curbed it in his latest novels.
Should we regret it?
But it is true he is experimenting other
styles under the collaborative influence from his son Joe Hill, a novelist of
his own. He has thus a real future and heir for the coming decades in the
cinema, in fiction and in other genres like the musical. Maybe he should concentrate
on these new forms and aim at producing more mini series or films than books.
He maybe has written enough books and should change media. But such a choice
has to be his decision. It is true it is difficult to do better than a good
dozen of his older novels, not to speak of The Dark Tower series, IT or The
Stand that are plain master pieces. But yet there still are some territories he
can explore for our pleasure.
STEPHEN KING – THE BILL
HODGES TRILOGY – VOLUME TWO – FINDERS KEEPERS – 2015
“Mr. Mercedes” was a prodigy in
Stephen King’s long and voluminous work. But this sequel is a miracle this
time. And there are so many reasons that I can only give you a few.
First the suspense is perfect.
The end is unpredictable, really, at most one among many others. It is centered
on a teenager, a junior in high school who is totally trapped by life. And the
big event in his life is the 2009 depression that makes his father unemployed
and his mother unemployed and then employed in a lower job. Then there is the
phenomenal Mercedes terrorist attack at the job fair at the Municipal center.
The son is suffering because his parents are bound to end up in separation and
divorce and he hates the idea, for them, for himself and for his younger sister.
What can HE, HIMSELF and HIM AGAIN do
That’s the genius of Stephen
King. He knows how to center his stories on children, teenagers particularly,
and he seems to be able to capture their psyche, their strange mind and growing
personality, growing in tortured anguish, awe and angst, permanently victimized
by their own self-centered altruistic ego. They want to do something for other
people and yet it is always for their own sake and that’s why it hurts. So what
happens then? They launch themselves on the most incredible schemes that are
supposed to bring salvation and epiphany, redemption and regeneration to
everyone they may think of, but first of all and mostly to themselves. Then
they will twist their minds and their psyches and their neurons, mirror or not,
because their schemes are bringing some wounds and pains to those they love
instead of only helping them along.
Stephen King has always been able
to do that, to describe that, to delve, dive and soak himself in such
contradictory antagonistic and dialectical good bad-doing or bad good-doing.
You would use a long M word, and that would not be Mercedes, if it were some
solitary play, but these teenagers or tweenagers cannot do anything without
involving other people in their intentions or in their targets, and good
morning Vietnam, let me introduce you to the catastrophe of the century who
kills quite a few people and nearly kills a few more. The criminal, the
psychopath, the sociopath, and whatever else you may think of along that path,
is an ex-convict on parole who is absolutely crazy, I mean a “path” of any type
you can think of: sociopath, psychopath and even, that’s new, just out of the
magic hat, culture-path. The poor man, because it has to be a man, is so
fixated on the work of the writer he killed out of vanity and disillusion that
he is able to kill half a dozen people to just have the chance of reading the
novels this writer never published. Bad luck all along since he is frozen
feces-less by his own intellectual mother and he gets drunk and he rapes a
woman, a substitute for his mother that he would have liked to rape, that he
should in his small logic have raped twenty times at least as soon as he was
something like 12.
Then the heart of the novel is
that the money he stole and the notebooks he stole too from that assassinated
writer, he buries them before being caught raping a woman and before being
railroaded down into some penitentiary for life. Then the whole novel is the
peregrination of the money, that ends up in some charitable saving plan, and
the notebooks, that end up all burnt up in the final catastrophic and abysmally
apocalyptic scene, though six were saved by the teenager who plays hero – maybe
he is in a way – and Stephen King seems to forget about these and seems to
assume that they have all been destroyed. Maybe he should check the loose board
at the back of the closet of this young teenager.
That kind of suspense novel is
perfect, absolutely perfect and Stephen King manages to include some allusions
to some of his short stories and films, but forget about it. It is gently vain
and funnily gentle.
But the book has a tremendous
symbolic value. 185 minus 6 notebooks (if I am not wrong on the numbers) get
burnt up at the end of the book. An “autodafe,” an act of faith my foot, an act
of barbarity from another time, another civilization, another barbarism,
another monstrous inquisition in some Mesoamerican or south American Spanish or
Portuguese colony based on burn them all, the male Indians, and keep the
females for your service. And burn them all they did there in the basement of
that closed and disaffected and abandoned Municipal Centre. All except six of
them. How can Stephen King even imagine such a crime against humanity and
against human culture? I swear I will hate him forever for this act but I must
admit it is the perfect climax in the grisly repellent suspense crime story
this book contains.
And Stephen King cannot obviously
resist putting some “magic” or supernatural energy somewhere, but I can’t
reveal it since it is going to be the starting point of the next volume of this
Enjoy the novel, especially at
night, and in the middle of the night get your courage up in your hands and
feet and walk to the out-house at the back of the yard outside in the
pitch-dark night, if you still have an out-house, and imagine the monsters that
are going to catch you while you are tiptoeing along to that small bungalow of
your physiological needs, but please do not wet your pants, underwear or
pajamas, or whatever you are wearing, or the grass if you are wearing no
encasement for your family jewels, just an XXX-large T-shirt you have put on as
a nightshirt with some provocative inscription on it, front and back, like Bill
Have a good reading session under
the full moon of all crimes.
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU
STEPHEN KING – THE BILL
HODGES TRILOGY – VOLUME THREE – END OF WATCH – 2016
I will dedicate this review to
our good old friend Bill Hodges, alias Kermit William Hodges, aka Kermit,
otherwise known as the Det-Ret, who died at the end of his third statutory case
and eponymous volume, and was buried in total privacy by his own father and
creator Stephen King when this one was finally through with exploiting the
character in his fictional stories. Let us pray for a minute for this glorious
and courageous character who could not enjoy his fame more than a few months
after his victory and yet in great pain, in spite of morphine.
Now let’s become what we should
always be, busy beavers.
This volume, like the previous
two, could be taken all by itself and that’s how I am going to look at it. We
are dealing with a psychic psychopath, Brady Hartsfield, alias Library Al or Z-boy,
aka Dr Babineau or Dr Z, also named Zeetheend in virtual reality, and even
known as Zappit Zero in game hardware.
We could refresh you on the previous crimes but it is not necessary here and in
the book there is no summary of the previous action or actions though the
essential elements are given by Stephen King when necessary.
But let’s be clear, at least a
little bit more. In the first volume Brady Hartsfield ran a stolen Mercedes
Benz into a crowd waiting for the opening of a special job fair, very early in
the morning in 2009 killing quite a few
and maiming quite a lot more. Later on Brady Hartsfield tries to blow himself
up in a boy-band concert in the middle of thousands of kids, essentially girls,
and parents. He is stopped just in time by Holly Gibney who seriously concusses
his skull and mashes his brain into total coma for a while and a paraplegic
situation afterwards. He thus ends up in a special unit in a hospital in a
state that is declared catatonic though we have a glimpse at the end of the
second volume that he is maybe not completely catatonic, at least not on the
mental side of his being.
The second volume concerns a
completely different business like a vacation from the Hartsfield case, while
this hard-core criminal is recuperating from his catatonic state. A vacation to
recuperate from mental vacancy.
In this here third volume we go
back to Hartsfield and we discover how an over 60 year old doctor used this
patient as a guinea pig for not yet certified experimental drugs under no
control at all. The patient then re-conquers his mind and develops some particular
capabilities, like telekinesis but also the great ability to use hypnosis to
capture the attention of people and take control of their minds and at first
direct them to his obsession, to commit suicide, and even later to host his own
mind and thus transport him in a body that is little by little made a simple
pod for the mind of the criminal Brady Hartsfield. This is not a new idea and
Anne Rice used it a lot in her novel “The Body Thief” where Lestat de
Lioncourt, her vampire, and another man who is in no way a vampire have this
ability and play around with it. Here Brady Hartsfield uses this ability to
move around when he is paraplegic to go and do things he could not do, to organize
his big scheme and set up the whole technical apparatus he needs to do it,
either under the appearance of Library Al, alias Z-Boy, or under the appearance
of Dr Babineau, alias Dr Z.
He will thus buy a whole batch of
game consoles that are out of the market because of some bankruptcy, have them
reprogrammed into hypnotic machines that will enable him to take control of the
minds of the users and lead them to suicide, because his main objective is to
make hundreds of people commit suicide, to start and feed a real suicide
epidemic. He is then known as the Suicide Prince, or Prince Suicide if you
prefer, or even the Prince of Suicide. He is a genius in computer science
though in his hospital wheelchair he cannot do much. He will have to take
control of a girl with whom he had worked in the first volume to be able to
achieve his aim. She is Frederica Linklatter. For the sake of money she finds
herself involved in that completely crazy project. She even let her own lesbian
friend if not partner go just for the thousands of dollars that are falling
into her basket. Then Brady Hartsfield is able to plan and start his vengeance
against three people essentially, Barbara Robinson, a black girl who is
essentially the sister of Jerome Robinson. Brady Hartsfield had noticed her in
his second terrorist attack on the concert. Then he is targeting Jerome
Robinson, a black boy he calls the Det-Ret’s nigger lawnmower, because he used
to do that for Bill Hodges when he was a teenager, and of course Bill Hodges,
though he does not so much want to kill that last one as make him suffer with
the suicide epidemic he is planning.
I am not going to tell the story
that leads to the full and final destruction of Brady Hartsfield. I’m going to
make a few remarks at a wider and higher level.
My first remark is that – for
once – Stephen King closes the trilogy with a “no survivor” situation, at least
the main pair of characters are exterminated, the criminal Brady Hartsfield and
the ex-cop Det-Ret Bill Hodges. The end is not a new beginning. It is a real
end, not like the second coming restart of the Dark Tower
and if there were to be a new beginning it would have to be of a somewhat
totally different nature. One may out-Caesar Caesar but as long as Caesar and
Brutus are still alive, both of them. Then out-Hodging Hodges becomes
impossible once Hodges is out.
My second remark is that more
than ever the third volume is a metaphor of America. In the previous episodes
the situation was saved by a woman Holly Gibney and a young black teenager
Barbara Robinson. In the same way the second volume was saved by this same
Holly Gibney and a young black teenager Jerome Robinson. In this third volume,
taking place six years after the events of the first Bill Hodges and Holly
Gibney are going to be killed by Brady Hartsfield when Jerome Robinson, now a
young black man, arrives with the cavalry and the cavalry is one horrible
monstrous snow mobile or snow tank that saves the day by crushing Brady
Hartsfield into some dying pulp led to
his own death by such a rolling over and abandoned in the snow storm to freeze
till the cops may arrive. The famous Christine is revisited in this end. Jerome
Robinson is an obvious personification of Obama. Holly is the personification
of Hillary Clinton, except that the woman came first and will stay last. But is
it not the very situation we had in 2008 and then 2016. The Blackman will
naturally move on to his own life.
My third remark is that any
institution in the USA,
including the police, are institutionalized into impotence, and not only by the
Peter Principle. This volume as much as the two previous ones shows how all
institutions are the victims of the ambitions of their members who prefer
messing up a case to jeopardizing their personal goals, though some private
initiative is going to force them into doing what they refused to do at first
and they then are very good at making it part of their plans. They are
vampires sucking the pith and marrow of
the adventurous individuals who seize the day and change the world. At the same
time if they cannot recuperate those adventurous individuals, then they will
push them into oblivion and inexistence by all means possible. Here the X Files
are the matrix of such a bureaucratic administrative perversion we all have
encountered here and there.
My fourth remark is that Stephen
King has become obsessed with and by death, “one foot in the grave and the
other on a banana peal.” (347) There is no escape from some obvious elements in
life – and death. “Friends and neighbors, does the sun rise in the east?” (296)
“If life hands you lemons, make lemonade.” (293) “Two survivors of the City Center
massacre. . . have committed suicide. . .“ (263) No getaway from your fate. Even
if it is racial/racist and sexist. “She is blackish, a word that seems the same
as useless, and she doesn’t deserve to live.” (115) And that fate is often
repaired with patches and elastic bands. “Deep in his thoughts, he misses the
primer-spotted Chevy Malibu for the third time in two days . . . standing next
to it an elderly man in an old Army surplus parka that has been mended with
masking tape.” (108-9) It is all nothing but a backside front countdown. Nine
pink fish to capture that are carrying numbers. Numbers that have to be captured
in these pink fish to add up to one hundred and twenty in one hundred and
twenty seconds. The obsession of the diabolical hour of Jesus’ death on the
cross, the ninth hour. The obsession of the twelve disciples, of the twelve
months of the year, that all accompany the Lord in his death on the cross;
accompany and reject, to maybe recompose themselves when the danger is passed,
except John at the foot of the cross and the two Mary’s, the last two not being
disciples, at least officially, but these are a kid under 15 and two women. And
this book all starts with a survivor of the City Center Massacre, Martine
Stover, being put to sleep by her mother, Mrs. Ellerton, who then commits
Seen like that in backward
retrospective the whole book is like a descent into hell and we can then think
of the seven screens of Brady Hartsfield’s own morbid regressive perspective.
1- His brother Frankie he helped
die by pushing him down some staircase.
2- His mother Deborah he helped
commit suicide with psychic means.
3- Thing One and Thing Two, his
long lived and still-born inventions.
4- Mrs. Trelawney’s gray Mercedes
sedan that killed quite a few at the City
5- The wheelchair in which his
body is now locked up as the result of his failed attack against the Mingo
6- A handsome, smiling young man.
. . , the old Det-Ret’s nigger lawn boy.
7- Hodges himself who will lead
the attack bringing the death of this pitiful excuse for anything as far away
as possible from what we generally call a man, and yet this chase will lead to
closure six months later.
How can you be more gruesome in
your regression than that? Just a child turned into a monster by his family
conditions, his jealousy against his little brother, the ambiguous and obscure
role of his mother and this child will grow into a computing genius who will
use his capabilities to in the end commit suicide, kill himself, destroy his
sorry excuse for a human being, but along with dragging as many people down
behind and with him as possible. Don’t tell me that does not exist. San Bernardino, Orlando, Paris, Brussels,
and so many other places where one can die and kill dozens at the same time, as
if these deaths, including theirs, were able to compensate for their mentally
neutered and physically spayed frustration.
Strangely enough I found an
obvious mistake in the book. Page 234 and page 237 the Chevy Malibu, the
possession of Library Al, is absent from Dr Babineau’s property when the police
arrives though Library Al is sleeping and snoring upstairs. This Library Al is
attributed later the coming to Dr Babineau’s, then going to the hospital and
then coming back to Dr Babineau’s and staying there, and yet his car is absent,
and Dr Babineau’s has been shot at, by whom? And this Chevy Malibu is the car
Brady Hartsfield in the body of Dr Babineau uses to get to the hunting camp for
the end of his suicide inflicting and suicide committing mission. This
discrepancy is surprising but I guess when we are dealing with a mental monster
we may lose some threads or some threads may get loose.
I will conclude with a double
Is Stephen King obsessed and
fascinated by his own death, which would be morbid?
Is Stephen King the simple mirror
capturing the reflection of what life is in the world? The obsolute domination
of inflicted and self-inflicted death everywhere in the world? And when there
is no war in a country you can be sure there will be a San
Bernardino in California or an Orlando in Florida
to inflict their load of victims onto our souls and minds.
We could wonder if Stephen King
is not recapturing the self-drawing of blood that was ritualistic among all men
in Maya society a long time ago. And this is only one case of self-sacrifice. What
about the systematic human sacrifice that is still going on in our societies
under the name of the death penalty?
We can go on wondering, but it is
a sad state of affairs in this supposedly civilized world where one candidate
in the US
presidential election is advocating torture not to get information since we all
know it is ineffective for that, but to get even with the barbarity of the
other side. A never ending competition at who was first and who will be last.
There is always an ugly duckling in a brood of
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU