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Driven into the darkness Mr. Mercedes'

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Stephen King's latest a taut, compelling thriller

When we hear the name Stephen King, we tend to think about things that go bump in the night. King is known as the 'Master of Horror,' after all his predilection for the supernatural is well-documented so we're not necessarily wrong when we have those thoughts.

They just aren't the whole story.

King is perfectly capable of shunting the supernatural aside and telling tales that are just as compelling (and yes, just as horrifying) without dipping into the waters of the eldritch unseen. He has done it before 'Misery' immediately leaps to mind, though there are a handful of other examples and now, he has done it again.

His latest is 'Mr. Mercedes' (Scribner, $30), an exploration of the terrifying cat-and-mouse game that unfolds following a monstrous and grisly crime, a back-and-forth between the psychopath who committed it and the retired detective who can't forgive himself for not solving it.

It is known as the 'Mercedes Massacre.' One early morning, as hundreds of hopefuls lined up outside a convention center in anticipation of a job fair, a stolen Mercedes SUV plowed into the crowd. Eight people died and many more were injured. The person behind the wheel was identifiable only by the clown mask he wore.

Months later, Detective Bill Hodges now retired is living a life of unease; he's drinking too much, eating too much and watching far too much afternoon television. His existence has come unmoored he's at a loss with regards to any sort of purpose. He contemplates a permanent ending to his personal tale.

But he's jolted back into action when he receives a letter - a jeering, taunting epistle supposedly penned by the man who was behind the wheel on the fateful morning. The letter claims that Hodges will never catch the killer, because the killer will never kill again. Hodges has his doubts about that and finds himself leaping into action. Having a cause makes his life worth living again.

On the other side of town lives Brady Hartsfield. He's a quiet, unassuming fellow who lives with his mother. He's also a psychopath and the Mercedes Killer. He's got a basement workroom devoted to helping him utilize his technological expertise to devise a new plan one that will bring death and destruction to many more.

The game is afoot. Hodges doesn't bring in the police; the killer has made things personal. He begins his own investigation an investigation that straddles the line between legality and illegality in an effort to finally tie up the loose thread that haunts him. He enlists some unlikely assistants and some unexpected relationships friendships and more begin to blossom.

But Brady is smart. He's hidden who he truly is from the world for many years; he's gotten quite good at it. He might just be smart enough to bring off his latest attack on a world that he hates and resents. It's down to Hodges and his friends to prevent that from happening.

King switches back and forth between perspectives, letting us inside the heads of both Hodges and Hartsfield, allowing us to bear witness to each man's respective journey and the events leading to their inevitable collision. We hear the doubting whispers in Hodges's head and experience the deductive leaps of the gifted detective and watch as his soul begins once more to shine.

We also get to peer inside the remarkably orderly mind of Hartsfield. We see the sins of his past and present and get glimpses of the effects of his usually-suppressed rage when it is uncaged. The control he exerts unsettles; for the most part, his anger chills rather than burns.

'Mr. Mercedes' unfolds with a fast-moving economy that makes it nigh-impossible to put aside - anticipate late nights and sluggish mornings until you see this story through to its thrilling conclusion. No one sweeps you up into a tale like Stephen King does, and this book is yet another master class in compelling and irresistible storytelling.

King's greatest gift has always been his ability to evoke darkness. He often chooses to use the macabre and the supernatural to do so. But in 'Mr. Mercedes,' in Brady Hartsfield, he has brought forth one of the most terrifying creations of his career. Brady Hartsfield is a man, nothing more. Yes, he is a twisted man, warped and corrupted by his environment and turned monstrous, but a man all the same. Brady Hartsfield could be anyone and anyone could be Brady Hartsfield.

And that's precisely why he's so scary.

'Mr. Mercedes' is King's third novel to be released in the last 12 months last June saw his crime novel 'Joyland;' September gave us his 'The Shining' sequel 'Doctor Sleep' and yet he just keeps picking up steam. An exciting electricity is present in his work that simply refuses to go away, no matter how prolific he is and the hits just keep on coming.

Stephen King is a literary rarity - the undisputed best in the world at what he does.


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