In our seen it all world, you have to break a few conventions to make a hard-boiled detective novel.
Stephen King does just that in his new novel, Mr. Mercedes. It features a retired cop with a cold case as mesmerizing as a hot dame. In ways that resonate that with today’s headlines of serial killers and random massacres, King’s hero, Bill Hodges, is seeking a mystery man who drove a stolen luxury German automobile into a crowd, killing eight strangers for no apparent reason.
The rich sister of the woman who owned the luxury German automobile hires Hodges and, as the novel progresses, Megan Abbot writes in the New York Times Book Review, King has “his detective engaging in a classic cat-and-mouse game with the killer. But you can feel him wriggling against the hard-boiled tradition, shaking the hinges. Soon enough, in ways large and small, he rejects and replaces the genre’s creakiest devices. Instead of another hard-drinking soulful detective, King presents a hero who lost interest in alcohol upon his retirement, and whose only addiction is daytime television. … Hodges’ sexual interests are focused, monogamous and decidedly un-neurotic. But it’s the larger genre deviations that make “Mr. Mercedes” feel so fresh. At their purest, hard-boiled novels are fatalistic, offering a Manichaean view of humanity. For King, however, dark humor extends beyond the investigator’s standard one-liners, reflecting a larger worldview. Killers and detectives make mistakes all the time (the wrong victim consumes the poisoned hamburger; the intended target fails to start his own car), and coincidences play a far greater role than fate. “Mr. Mercedes” is a universe both ruled by a playful, occasionally cruel god and populated by characters all of whom have their reasons. One man can do only so much.”
And he often needs the help of a woman, in this case a 45-year-old “spinster” named Holly Gibney who, in another break from hard-boiled tradition, comes to dominate the investigation and the novel. Abbot continues: “No one man or woman, King suggests, can forestall every act of senseless violence or protect us from random catastrophe. But what Mr. Mercedes offers instead are bighearted men and women who are, after all, much like us. And, King seems to be reminding readers, the good guys still outnumber the bad.
- Read Colin Fleming’s review in the Boston Globe.
- Visit Steve’s official website.
- Listen to Will Patton read an excerpt from the novel.
- Watch the book trailer.
Stephen King’s Top Ten List
1. The Golden Argosy by Van H. Cartmell & Charles Grayson, editors.
2. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (1884).
3. The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie (1988).
4. McTeague by Frank Norris (1899).
5. Lord of the Flies by William Golding (1955).
6. Bleak House by Charles Dickens (1853).
7. 1984 by George Orwell (1948).
8. The Raj Quartet by Paul Scott (1966–75).
9. Light in August by William Faulkner (1932).
10. Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West by Cormac McCarthy (1985).
Appreciation of The Golden Argosy by Stephen King
I first found The Golden Argosy in a Lisbon Falls (Maine) bargain barn called The Jolly White Elephant, where it was on offer for $2.25. At that time I only had four dollars, and spending over half of it on one book, even a hardcover, was a tough decision. I’ve never regretted it.
Originally published in 1947 and reissued in 1955—but not updated or reprinted since—The Golden Argosy is an anthology of roughly fifty-five short stories. The editors made no pretensions to “quality fiction,” but simply tried to publish the best-loved stories published in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, up to the post–World War II period.
Though it is in terrible need of updating (there is no Raymond Carver, for instance, no Joyce Carol Oates, because such writers came along too late for inclusion), it remains an amazing resource for readers and writers, a treasury in the true sense of the word, covering everything from sentimental masterpieces such as Bret Harte’s “The Outcasts of Poker Flat” to realistic character studies such as “Paul’s Case” by Willa Cather.
Every reader will find glaring omissions (Dorothy Parker’s “Big Blonde,” for instance), but you’ve got your Faulkner classic (“A Rose for Emily”), your Hemingway (“The Killers”), and your Poe (“The Gold-Bug”). It includes “The Rich Boy,” in which F. Scott Fitzgerald famously observes “the rich are different from you and me,” and overlooked gems from writers such as Sherwood Anderson (“I’m a Fool”) and John Collier (“Back for Christmas”).
The Golden Argosy taught me more about good writing than all the classes I’ve ever taken. It’s the best $2.25 I ever spent.