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A frantic and fitting End'

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(Author photo by Shane Leonard) (Author photo by Shane Leonard)

King's trilogy-closing 'End of Watch' a thrilling finale

We're long past the point where we should be surprised by anything Stephen King does.

Despite a long, lauded and lucrative career, King's recent output certainly hasn't been that of a writer content to rest on his laurels. Far from it the last five years alone have seen a brilliant bit of alternate history ('11/22/63'), a crime novel ('Joyland'), a return to his horror roots ('Revival'), a phenomenal collection ('The Bazaar of Bad Dreams')and the Bill Hodges trilogy.

'End of Watch' (Scribner, $30) marks the third and final book of that trilogy, the continuing story of retired police detective Bill Hodges and the far-reaching consequences of his involvement in the investigation of a horrible crime and the madman who committed it.

Bill Hodges is still hard at work at Finders Keepers, the not-quite detective agency he started with his friend and partner, the socially awkward Holly. His health is heading downhill fast, but at least he has largely found peace with the unsatisfying end to the Mr. Mercedes saga Brady Hartsfield sits comatose on the brain injury wing of the local hospital, a mere shell of his former self.

But all is not what it seems.

People with connections to Hartsfield whether they were part of the Mr. Mercedes massacre or in attendance at the concert he very nearly blew up or simply working near him at the hospital are dying. Specifically, they are taking their own lives. On the surface, the Hartsfield connection seems little more than a coincidence. After all, he can only manage a few steps or a few words in his current condition.

Bill Hodges isn't so sure.

See, there's a lot of odd talk around Hartsfield. The nurses tell stories of things moving by themselves faucets turning themselves on, blinds rattling for no reason and their whispers attribute it all to him. He can do things that no one can do. And when a discontinued video game device proves capable of helping him do so much more, Brady Hartsfield has everything he needs to set into motion a plan that will allow him to finish what he startedand finish his business with Bill Hodges and friends forever.

King has shown a willingness to play with genre in the past particularly crime and noir fiction but he's never done anything quite like this. The Hodges trilogy is largely unlike any other work he has produced, a trilogy of thrillers that (until the last book) mostly eschews the supernatural.

For the most part, it's just some good old-fashioned rip-roaring storytelling. From the flashback that starts the book to the thrilling confrontation that brings it to a climax, the narrative is relentless. Even the quieter and/or more introspective moments have an urgency to them that really fuels the fire. Basically, you just grab on and hold tightly and see where Mr. King has decided to take us.

Of course, King being King, it's no shock to see the spooky stuff show up. Anyone who was paying attention could see the groundwork being laid for a finale with a bit more of a paranormal flair. While the first two books were largely straightforward thrillers, those hints of the paranormal were there. And it's a good fit forcing the practical, logical Hodges into confronting a reality in which such things exits adds another layer to an already complex character.

In truth, Hodges might be one of King's best heroes. The trilogy has allowed King and by extension the reader to stay with Hodges for an extended stretch. The result is the kind of flawed protagonist that makes for compelling reading; a guy who can be brilliant, but mostly finds success through combining his instincts with a willingness to work. Toss in some crusty old-guy wit and charm and you've got yourself a winner.

As for Hartsfield, he's made all the scarier by the changes King makes. His villainy is supernaturally charged here, but it wasn't always. The Brady Hartsfield we first met was evil, all ego and entitlement but he was a man. An evil man, but a man all the same. Seeing that man imbued with the potential for all-new, seemingly-impossible sinister deeds is far more horrifying than meeting the monster with his powers already manifest.

While 'Mr. Mercedes' was a more-or-less straightforward thriller with a catch-me-if-you-can vibe, 'Finders Keepers' went in a different direction, exploring the relationships built between author and audience. The first was a bit more visceral, the second a bit more cerebral. 'End of Watch' makes for an interesting end to the story. King takes the opportunity to fold his otherworldly aesthetic into the picture, creating a departure of a final book that still fits comfortably into the big picture.

All in all, 'End of Watch' is a fitting finale and a fond farewell to Bill Hodges. It's just more proof that there's no one in the game quite like Stephen King.

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