The above sentiment couldn't be more true, even in the context of comparing books. This comparison may be a small insult to these novels but for me, Mr. Mercedes read like a less clever cross between Death Note by Tsugumi Ohba & You by Caroline Kepnes.
The dynamic between depressed, retired cop, Bill Hodges & your friendly neighborhood psychopath, Brady Hartsfield, is reminiscent of that between L & Light Yagami. Two intelligent men caught up in a game of cat and mouse, quickly moving pieces back & forth on a chess board of "Who Will Catch Who?" Except their story is not nearly as compelling.
Brady is written similarly to Joe Goldberg. They're both hilarious in their excessive judgement of everyone around them. They're both overwhelmingly fixated on one individual. They both have weird ideas about what it means to be aroused. Except Brady is not nearly as relatable.
It's possible that without having read these books prior to, I would've enjoyed Mr. Mercedes a bit more. But even without those comparisons, this story fell flat for me.
There was never a time while reading that I found myself wondering what would happen. Which is kind of a bummer for a novel pegged as a Mystery/Thriller.
It's as though the two main perspectives were not written distinctly enough to be convincing. Multiple times throughout, one character would decide to do something & the other character would immediately think of that specific thing in the next chapter or two. Why? Because they're just that on the ball?
I'm not buying it.
The back & forth between hero & villain is supposed to be powerful and exciting. It's not supposed to read like a script. Instead of building suspense, it comes off as cheesy & predictable.
Not to mention for a murderous mastermind, Brady is kind of an idiot? From the synopsis, we know he stole a Mercedes, drove it into a crowd of folks, and evaded capture by the local authorities. However, none of his subsequent actions actually lead me to believe he's the same guy who committed that crime & got away with it.
He exhibits some capability with computers, but in general he seems too impulsive & hot-headed to be much of a threat. Brady's characterization by association sort of weakens the effect of Hodges' ability as a detective.
On top of that, Hodges does a very poor job convincing me that he truly has the best interest of the public at heart. Much of the time I was hoping he would break down and take the case to active police, but even at the risk of harming others Hodges is determined to occupy the vigilante role.
My absolute least favorite aspect of this novel is the female characters.
Unfortunately, Mr. Mercedes suffers from Women in Refrigerators syndrome. Most of the female characters in this novel are used entirely for the benefit or characterization of the male leads.
Take this quote:
"The woman he slept with after he'd come to a point in his life where he thought he'd never sleep with any woman again. The woman who made him laugh and gave him comfort. [...] The woman who wrinkled her nose at him and mocked his 'yeah.'"
Notice how this paragraph is constructed entirely to explain the role of the female's importance to the male character, and not to explain her individual attributes. She's not the woman with an impeccable sense of humor, she's the woman who made him laugh & gave him comfort.
Without having read the book, this point may not be as apparent. The problem is, I can't tell you a damn thing about this woman outside the context of her male counterpart.
If this wasn't enough, we're then treated to this lovely sentiment:
"Hodges has never even considered the idea that Mr. Mercedes might actually be Mrs. Mercedes. He supposes it's technically possible, and it would make a neat solution for an Agatha Christie novel but this is real life."
Oh wait, I forgot women don't actually kill people in real life? Sure, you can cite statistics about male vs. female crime rates, but does it make sense for a retired cop with years of experience to relegate this possibility strictly to fictional circumstances?
This novel was written in 2014, for God's sake. I realize that Hodges is a 60+ year old man, but seeing as he's the sympathetic hero of the tale I just can't get on board. Neither the novel, nor the characterization would've suffered by omitting this line.
So, Mary, why 2 stars instead of 1?
It's because this wasn't quite bad enough to fall that far from grace. It made me chuckle a couple of times & it wasn't written terribly. But I could've gotten the same thrill from turning on the television & flipping to the nearest episode of Law & Order or CSI.
As pointed out by my friend Celeste, "With a show like that, you're giving up an hour of your life. Not 14."
Unfortunately, Mr. Mercedes is just not the intricately woven tale of murder & mystery & originality that I wanted it to be. It's entertaining to an extent, but it doesn't leave a lasting impression. It doesn't cause me to contemplate or question. When the book runs out of pages, it doesn't continue to live in my mind.
With this being my first Stephen King book, I didn't go into it with any real expectations. I know he's hit & miss even with some of his biggest fans, and so I intend to give his other books a chance! Perhaps a horror story next.
Thank you Celeste for buddy reading this with me even though I was an asshole & read it way too fast!