Here’s a book thing: The Bill Hodges trilogy by Stephen King

As mentioned in my first Stephen King review, it became clear to me while reading The Outsider that one of the characters was from a previous work.  That work turned out to be an entire trilogy of gritty crime novels.  I snagged them from the library last week, and have spent much of the intervening time reading them.

Conclusion: they’re good.  Also, large print books are awesome for my aging, failing eyes, and I’ll be on the lookout for large print editions when possible in the future.

The first two novels in the series, Mr. Mercedes and Finders Keepers, are straight-up mystery/crime books with no supernatural elements.  Mr. Mercedes is the better book, I think, but that’s at least partly because Finders Keepers involves a J.D. Salinger-type writer and I am really tired of Stephen King having stories revolve around writers.  You’re a writer, bub.  I get it.  We all get it.  We got it in The Dark Half, and Bag of Bones, and Duma Key, and… yeah.  We get it.  I actually stopped reading King for a while because he seemed to be in a rut where every main character was a middle-aged writer.  I mean, sure, write what you know, but… c’mon.

Fortunately, the writer is offed in the opening.  This is a crime novel, after all.

By the end of the second book, there are a whole lot of pointers to the fact that the third one (End of Watch) is going to be more supernatural in nature, even if you weren’t already aware of that due to mentions in The Outsider.  And that turns out to, indeed, be the case; what was impressive was that the book still managed to be a solid mystery/crime novel despite the supernatural elements.

That said, I feel that the series had a pretty linear decline in quality.  They were all good, but Mr. Mercedes was the best, with the most captivating villain and the best “oh, if only!” moments.  That’s actually kinda nice, to be honest; if you only have time for one of them, you can read the first and be pretty content.

Are they better than The Outsider, you ask?  I think I enjoyed that book more, because the back half of it was a more traditional King novel, with the dreamlike logic those books contain.  But that book is also a very, well, King-ian work, with weird horrible magical things happening and massive confusion reigning.  I like that sort of thing, but totally understand why some people don’t.

On the other hand, Mr. Mercedes presents a perfectly human villain that does things almost as awful.  Isn’t that worse, really?

Here’s a book thing: “The Outsider” by Stephen King

[Extremely minimal spoilers ahead.  Basically, if you’ve ever read… well, anything by Stephen King, it’s spoiler-free.]

I wended my way through Stephen King’s latest novel last night, finishing it up around one in the morning.  Now, I wake up to an alarm at 0500 every Monday morning for stupid reasons involving a video game, so I should have been in bed around 9pm or so… but I just couldn’t pull myself away from the book.

It’s good.  Real good.

I used to be an enormous Stephen King fan.  My mom let me join the Stephen King Book Club when I was eleven or so; the first book I got was Needful Things, which had just come out.  (To those of you concerned about a kid reading Stephen King, let’s just say that I could handle it, and my mother was well aware of that.)  It was painfully clear to me that there was a lot more to this Castle Rock business, even before I could look up the details easily on Wikipedia, and over the next few years more and more of his earlier books would trickle into my possession from the Book Club.  I can’t remember exactly when we stopped the subscription; I think it was sometime after Dolores Claiborne and before Insomnia, but I’m not entirely sure.

Anyhow, while I was a huge King fan for years, his grasp on my imagination slackened considerably once he entered that period where it felt like every book he wrote involved a New England author having a mid-life crisis, oh and also some spooky stuff happened or whatever.  I felt like he was treading the same water over and over.  His ending to the Dark Tower series also left… a lot to be desired.  I figured I’d still read him every now and then, but my days of following every new Stephen King novel were over.

This proved to be true; I picked up the interquel Dark Tower book and Duma Key from the library at different times over the last few years, and they were pretty much precisely what I expected: a disappointment and a book about an author having a mid-life crisis, oh and also some spooky stuff happened, in that order.

I read a snippet of a review of the brand-new King novel, The Outsider, and it mentioned that the book was a “return to form.”  I figured, what the hell? and put it on hold at the local library.  Apparently I was one of the very first to do that, because I got it in my hot little hands immediately after it entered circulation.

Conclusion: It’s good.  Real good.  It is, indeed, something of a return to form.  The novel starts off like a police procedural, but things get weirder and weirder as it goes, and by the end it is definitely a Stephen King novel.  As someone who is strongly spoiler-averse I won’t go further than to say that I felt it fit together better than a lot of his later work.

A note that I would have appreciated before reading it: one of the main characters of the novel is apparently from King’s earlier crime trilogy that starts with Mr. Mercedes, a fact I didn’t know but started to suspect as I read.  The Outsider spoils the events of those novels pretty heavily, so be forewarned that if you don’t want those spoilers, you should read those books first.

That said, the book stands alone just fine.  Duma Key was something of a mediocre read, and the less said about The Wind in the Keyhole the better, but if this is how he writes nowadays, I’m ready to become a fan again.