Tuesday, August 16, 2016

An Engaging--and Creepy--Crime Thriller from the Master of Horror

Bill Hodges is a retired detective in a city that's seen better days. For that matter, Bill has seen better days himself. He's divorced, living alone, and now spends most of his time in his recliner watching dopey daytime television shows while playing with his gun and wondering what it might be like to just stick it in his mouth and end it all. He's let himself go to seed and is now twenty pounds overweight; clearly, he's on the downhill side of life.

Like a lot of retired detectives, though, Hodges is haunted by a handful of cases that he investigated but never solved. The one that pains him most involves a killer who stole a large Mercedes sedan and then deliberately drove it at high speed into a crowd of people who were lined up outside an auditorium, waiting for a job fair to begin. Eight people were brutally killed; many others were injured, and the driver got away cleanly.

Now, several months later, Hodges receives a letter from the killer, taunting him and threatening to commit another act of atrocity. Of course, Hodges should turn the letter over to his former fellow detectives who are still investigating the massacre. But the letter stirs something in him and, rather than doing what logic and the law both require, he decides to investigate the matter himself.

The reader soon learns the name of the killer, Brady Harstfield, and this story is as much his as it is Hodges. Hartsfield is a demented young man with some serious mommy issues. But he's very good with computers and has a certain native intelligence. He has a plan for Bill Hodges and a larger one for himself, stemming from the rush he got by killing all those innocent victims at the job fair.

What follows is a great contest of wits and physical skills, pitting Hodges and a couple of unlikely allies against Hartsfield. In Hodges, Stephen King has created a flawed but convincing and engaging protagonist. In Harstfield he has created the epitome of an evil man. Books like this almost always rise or fall based on the qualities of the bad guy, and King provides us here with a believable and genuinely scary villain. Readers will not soon forget either Bill Hodges or Brady Hartsfield.

If the book has a flaw, it rests with the fact that the reader has to buy into Bill's reasons for refusing to turn this matter over to the cops so that the entire police force can be deployed against Brady Hartsfield before a lot more innocent people are killed. There are several places in the book where the reader may wind up shaking his or her head at the notion that Hodges would continue to go it basically alone. But a lot of thrillers like this require a suspension of disbelief and the story moves along rapidly enough that it's easy enough to do so here. Bottom line, this is a great read from a man who obviously knows how to tell a story.

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