[**NOTE** Minor spoilers are used in this review. I don’t believe they will ruin your reading experience if you haven’t gotten to any or all of the books in the trilogy, but if you prefer going into material with absolutely no spoilers, you may not want to proceed.]
Readers of this site know that I’m a huge fan of noir and pulp fiction, and that I thoroughly enjoy the books published by Hard Case Crime; they would also know that Stephen King is my favorite writer. And so, it’s only reasonable to think that when the two forces came together back in 2005, I came close to piddling on the floor like an overexcited puppy. The marriage produced a novel entitled The Colorado Kid, and while it was an okay story, I felt it missed the mark as far as what HCC stood for (something that King acknowledged in a future book’s introduction or afterword…the specific title of which escapes me now).
In 2013, the King reunited with Hard Case Crime to publish Joyland, a *fantastic* story that was in my top-three favorites for the year (if you haven’t read it, I heartily recommend doing so. It’s tame and played straight, so it would appeal to everyone, not just fans of horror). That being said, it still didn’t feel like Hard Case was the proper place for the story, not that it ultimately mattered when it was such a success.
One year later, King started a new trilogy surrounding a character named Bill Hodges, a retired homicide detective turned private investigator. Finally King took readers into the world of noir, something I was thrilled to experience. Interestingly enough, the series of books was *not* placed with Hard Case Crime, but that’s neither here nor there at this point.
Book one, entitled Mr. Mercedes, highlights a killer named Brady Hartsfield — a man who purposefully ran his car into a crowd, killing and maiming numerous people — and Hodges’ attempt to identify and capture him before Hartsfield could cause more chaos. Finders Keepers, the second book in the series, centers on a life-long criminal who kills an author and steals his unpublished manuscripts. With the police closing in due to a second, lesser crime, the con hides the author’s notebooks and does his time in prison, all the while dreaming about the day he’ll be released and can read the work of his favorite writer. Unfortunately for him, Hodges and Company get involved, doing their best to help a young man who bumbles across the notebooks by accident and finds himself in the killer’s cross-hairs.
A couple weeks ago I listened to the audiobook version of End of Watch, the third and final installment in the Bill Hodges trilogy. In it, the storyline swings back to Brady Hartsfield, who is in a vegetative state due to happenings at the end of Mr. Mercedes. The previous books hinted at Hartsfield developing “powers” as a result of his brain injury, the nurses and doctors reporting strange goings-on in his room: the bathroom door opening or closing, the blinds rattling, his bedside clock moving. But when surviving victims and ancillary people from Hartsfield’s massacre start to commit suicide, Hodges begins to wonder if Brady’s powers are more ominous than a little telekinesis in his hospital room.
Upon completion of End of Watch, I found myself in a quandary as to what I actually thought about the novel. On one hand, it really is a great horror/pseudo-detective novel. There are plenty of thrills and chills, and in my opinion the trilogy’s final chapters could not have been better; no anticlimactic nonsense to be found here. On the other hand, the story veers into completely different territory than the first two books, adding elements of the supernatural, whereas Mr. Mercedes and Finders Keepers were straight detective novels. I went into End of Watch with some trepidation at the direction it appeared to be going, and my feelings ended up being dead-on.
The scoring system for this book is going to seem a little wonky, but hang with me. Overall, taking the novel as the final part of a trilogy, I give it a 7 out of 10, which makes it the weakest of the books for me (my favorite being Finders Keepers, followed by Mr. Mercedes). For me, the change of direction in theme was a detriment to the story. As for the audiobook, I give it an 8 out of 10. Will Patton was the narrator, and he hit this one out of the park. The voices he gave the characters were excellent, especially the one he used for Bill Hodges; it was noir through and through. The voice he used for Holly Gibney, Bill’s partner at the detective agency, took some getting used to at first — Patton employed a stilted reading for her parts – but because the character was so socially awkward in the storylines, it ended up working. Now for the weird score: had End of Watch actually been a standalone novel, I think I would have scored it as an 8 or a 9. It really is a fun, well-written, entertaining story. It just didn’t fit in with the others, and as such, didn’t help the trilogy in the end.
Stephen King has had a fantastic stretch of novels, novellas, and short stories in the past decade, and the Bill Hodges trilogy is no exception. Many people think of King’s writing as too scary, too blood-and-guts for their taste. Yet, while it’s true that his earlier stuff was pretty visceral at times, King’s recent output has pulled back on the “bad” scares and violence, instead relying heavily on characterization with healthy dashes of mood and setting. And so, whether you’re a long-time fan like myself, or someone who has historically shied away from his work, you’ll find some excellent reading ahead of you if you jump into Mr. Mercedes, Finders Keepers, and End of Watch. Like the dude from Men’s Warehouse likes to say, “I guarantee it.”
Until we meet again…