Mr. Mercedes doesn’t read like Stephen King. It doesn’t even read like Dean Koontz. It reads like Mediocre Thrillerwriter from the four books for a buck shelf.
It reads like a trunk novel from 1992 when the internet was new and scary and a rash of books and TV movies about evil little nerds plotting to kill people with super computer magic were everywhere.
And it wouldn’t surprise me if that was exactly where Mr. Mercedes is from.
The title and cover of Mr. Mercedes strain to convince you that it’s going to be another complicated ride filled with allusions building up to… forget about it.
There’s nothing supernatural here. There’s nothing any deeper than the movie of the week here.
Mr. Mercedes is the story of a battle of wits between your stock character, the retired cop still haunted by a case (divorced, alcoholic, thinking of suicide – all the cliche boxes are checked) and an updated Norman Bates who not only has a sick relationship with his mother, but also works on the Geek Squad at Best Buy and has an evil command center in his basement full of laptops with a countdown running.
And he voice controls them by saying “Chaos”.
Stephen King has written bad novels before, but never boring ones. This isn’t Christine. This isn’t The Under the Dome. It’s just bland.
The writing is bad. The characters are bland. The plot is predictable. I skipped 100 pages ahead and sure enough, the Best Buy Norman Bates had killed his mother. I skipped ahead another 100 pages and the plastic explosive mentioned early on had been used to blow up the cop’s new girlfriend.
And then I put down the book for good.
That was the first time I put down a Stephen King book without reading it through. But before King had always put in enough hooks, enough verbal special pleadings, to keep you going. Mr. Mercedes is the first time his talent completely abandoned him.
There’s nothing here worth reading.
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe after 300 pages the whole thing turns into a hidden mystical battle between his shopping list and his ghostwriter.
But I’m betting it doesn’t.
If you programmed a computer to write a Stephen King novel, it might spit out something like Mr. Mercedes. It’s unimaginative. It’s so unimaginative that it doesn’t even inhabit the same space as imagination.
There are some of Stephen King’s tics here, but they come off badly. The Best Buy Bates talks like an elderly 60s racist. Really, what twenty something today says “Darkie”. There’s a young black character who keeps saying “Massa”.
It’s embarrassing to read. It must have been even more embarrassing to edit. Except that it obviously wasn’t edited.
King tried to learn something about the internet in the process of writing or rewriting this, but it just makes the basic errors and the context of it even dumber.
The cop and the Best Buy Bates spar through a supersecret connection that sounds like a housewife’s chat room from the 90s. There’s talk about vacuuming crumbs out of CPUs. The Best Buy Bates is an inventor and computer genius who never heard of a Roomba.
I don’t know why Mr. Mercedes exists.
It’s obvious that Stephen King has been having some writing problems. He put out two trunk novels recently and a few sequels. The quality has been weak, but Mr. Mercedes isn’t weak. It has no merits.
There’s no reason to read it.