I blew it this year by not calling the Edgar for Best Novel for Stephen King’s Mr. Mercedes, but instead ranking it #2 while bestowing the Literary Lunchbox Edgar on Mo Hayder’s Wolf. (Check it out here.) Still, I loved the book and was definitely looking forward to #2 in the planned trilogy, Finders Keepers.
And friends, it is now here. It’s got all the good stuff that the best King novels have... plotting, pacing, suspense, and wonderful characters. Still, it definitely feels like King is counting on our patience… particularly since Bill Hodges, our hero and the guy we are most interested in seeing, doesn’t show up until roughly halfway through Finders Keepers. Nor do Holly Gibney and Jerome Robinson (Aspy-challenged savant and bright black teen with a twisted sense of humor). ‘
This is risky, because how does King know that we’ll put up with 147 pages of what is essentially backstory? But what a backstory! Picture this: obsessed fan talks two buddies into robbing the home of a famous, reclusive author. (Think JD Salinger with a twist of John Updike.) Author ends up dead, fan and buddies get away with a bunch of unpublished manuscripts and a pile of cash. No surprise, fan kills partners… but then goes to prison for a very long time for an unrelated crime. Oh, and did I say it’s 1978?
Flash forward to 2010, when teenage Pete Sauber – who is super-smart but also pretty dorky – discovers the fan’s cache. His parents are having serious money problems, as his dad was one of the unemployed job fair hopefuls who got run over by Mr. Mercedes in King’s previous book. Pete quickly decides to send $500/month in cash to his parents, who conveniently and understandably decide that there is a benefactor out there trying to make life better for the Mercedes killer’s victims. (Which is sort of true.)
Of course, you can see where this is going. Right about the time the money runs out, the fan gets out of jail and the two – elderly bad guy and teenage dork – are on a collision course that is not likely to end well. Fortunately, Pete ends up with an ace in the hole. That’s right, Bill. Plus Holly and Jerome.
It’s a pretty wild ride. As with Mr. Mercedes, there’s a lot of tension and quite a few bodies along the way. There’s also great pacing, some new and believable characters, and interesting character development, as Bill grapples with his responsibility for Janey’s death, Holly has become more independent, and Jerome is now a Harvard man.
The stand-off at the end, as the fan (Morris Bellamy) threatens to shoot Pete’s little sister, while Pete threatens to set the author’s manuscripts on fire, is a nail-biter. I won’t spoil it for you, except to reassure you that Bill Hodges is a hero.
I predict great things for this Stephen King. He may be a newbie at detective fiction, but he’s got what it takes.