I make no secret of the fact that I am a huge fanboy of Stephen King’s recent work. Under the Dome, 11/22/63, Doctor Sleep, and Lisey’s Story rank, in my humble opinion, among the best novels King has ever written. But my personal favorite of the lot is Mr. Mercedes.
Mr. Mercedes doesn’t tackle the social-political issues of Under the Dome. Mr. Mercedes doesn’t touch the massive scope of The Stand, nor does Mr. Mercedes contain many of the tropes that have made King famous. Mr. Mercedes is, however, a dang fun novel, the kind that puts you in one place and keeps you there until the final chapter. And isn’t that the whole point?
So, of course I was excited to read Mr. Mercedes sequel, Finders Keepers. Finders Keepers is the second book in a planned trilogy. And from the first page, I was hooked.
Finders Keepers begins in 1978, with the antagonist, Morris Bellamy, murdering the famous and reclusive author John Rothstein (an amalgamation of John Updike, Philip Roth, and J.D. Salinger) to steal Rothstein’s unpublished manuscripts. Bellamy later kills his two cohorts and buries the manuscripts along with thousands of dollars in the backyard of his childhood home. He actually gets away with the murders, but then rapes a woman in a drunken stupor, an act for which he is sentenced to life. Eventually he is released on parole, with an insatiable thirst to read the buried manuscripts.
Flash forward to the present day, shortly before Bellamy’s release a boy named Peter Saubers finds the buried manuscripts and money. The Mercedes Killer injured Saubers’ father, which is putting a financial strain on Saubers’ family. To help, Saubers sends him family the found money anonymously, until it runs out and he decides to try and sell the manuscripts. Unfortunately, Saubers hopes to sell the manuscripts around the same time a desperate Bellay is searching for them, leading to an inevitable confrontation.
Deus ex machina aside, this is an interesting setup. But about a third of the way through the book, I started to think, Where is Bill Hodges? And Holly? And Jermone? This is good, but how is it a sequel to Mr. Mercedes? All these characters do make an appearance, but it’s pretty late in the game.
And therein lies my only significant problem with Finders Keepers. As a stand-alone book, it’s great; but it’s not a stand-alone title. And all my favorite characters from Mr. Mercedes go through major transformations “off-screen.” Hodges loses a bunch of weight off screen. Holly develops a degree of self-confidence off-screen. Jerome goes to college off-screen. The penultimate novel in a trilogy should set the stage for the final book, but I don’t see how any of the major events of Finders Keepers will play into End of Watch (the last title). Except, however, for the parts about Brady Hartsfield.
Brady Hartsfield was the Mercedes Killer from Mr. Mercedes, and because of the events in that book, he is seemingly in a brain-dead state. But in a twist, the ending of Finders Keepers implies that Harsfield is far more “awake” than he is letting on, and may have developed certain telekinetic powers. Now, I can already hear the cries: “You just had to go there, didn’t you King! Couldn’t just write a standard mystery trilogy, could you?” And to those people I say: “Get over it.” If Stephen King wants to give one of my favorite villains psychic powers, I’m all about it.
Yet, Hartsfield seems to be the only link in Finders Keepers that will connect Mr. Mercedes to End of Watch. Of course, King could surprise me, and I may change my opinion of Finders Keepers if he does. Unfortunately, as it stands, Finders Keepers is an entertaining read, but as a sequel to Mr. Mercedes and entry in the Mercedes trilogy, it is at best a compelling parenthesis.