Saturday, June 21, 2014

Going to School with Mr. Mercedes

Scott D. Parker

I finished listening to the new Stephen King book, Mr. Mercedes, earlier this week and I realized that I was in writing school.

Usually, when I read/listen to a book, I’m not aware of the mechanics of what the author’s doing and, to be honest, that happened with King’s new book. I was reminded how remarkable he is at his craft, how he so seamlessly set the hook of the story and just let me along. The first hook is chapter one, set a few years in the past. I didn’t know what was happening until the event that drives (pun intended) the main focus of the story: a deranged man driving a Mercedes plows into a group of people waiting in line at a job fair. What I learned in that simple opening chapter is the deftness of how King made me care for the folks that I knew were going to die. I made what I knew was coming much more difficult.

But it was the story itself, and particularly the construction of the story, that really got me. From chapter two onward, we jump forward one year and follow two characters: the detective who, now retired, never got to solve the case of Mr. Mercedes and the killer himself. In an interesting twist, King reveals the name of the killer early on, allowing us readers to know things the detective does not.

And that’s where the fun begins. As soon as King identified who Mr. Mercedes was, I thought “Why now? Why not drag it out?” Because King used that to great effect, most effectively when the detective made an assumption based on the data he actually had but was completely wrong. The tension was fantastic.

The points of view only focus on the detective and the killer. That kind of format is nothing new, but it’s been a long time since I’ve read a story like that. I really enjoyed it. King wrote the book in present tense that gave the entire experience and immediacy that got me through the hard labor of the unloading and laying of sod. Lastly, there were instances where I thought “Hmm, things are going too well, I’m just waiting for an obstacle to block the detective’s way.” Blammo, there one was.

SPOILER NOW: There was one aspect of the story that really was tension filled: that would be the bomb a the end. You see, King had a habit of having the characters think as if the events had already happened and they were just telling the story. Tus, when King had the detective say (paraphrase): Yeah, sure, have your sister and mom go to the concert; it’ll be fine. Man, I was really antsy on those times.

A word on the narration: Will Patton was excellent. He changed his vocal qualities to match the detective, the killer, and a couple of helpers. He did it so well that you didn’t even need the “he said/she said” to know who was talking.

I definitely recommend the book and, if you read it in hard copy, do so with a pencil and mark this baby up. You won’t regret it.

Do y'all often recognize how well an author writes a book *while you are reading the book"?

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