As the Bill Hodges trilogy comes to an end, Stephen King fans lament the conclusion of something that has taken on a mind of its own, while being pleased with the calibre of the final novel. The reader gathers the shards of literary glass King left with the end of the previous book, as Bill Hodges is called to the scene of an apparent murder-suicide, a favour by his former partner. What brings Hodges and his partner, Holly Gibney, rushing to the house is that one of the two bodies belongs to that of Martine Stover, severely injured by a man dubbed the Mercedes Killer back in 2009. Left a quadriplegic after the car ran into her, Martine lived with her mother, who seemingly could not take all the pressure after seven years. Hodges can remember the day of that horrific killing spree, one that led Brady Hartsfield to attempt another horrible at the following year at a boy band concert. Now, Hartsfield is in the hospital with a severe brain injury and resting in a coma, though Hodges cannot help but wonder if there is more going on that the hospital staff will admit. Unbeknownst to anyone, Hartsfield’s neurologist, Dr. Felix Babineau, has been giving his patient injection of an unapproved drug while running his own experiments. Outwardly there is nothing apparently going on, but Hartsfield seems to have honed some telegenic skills, those that he can use to his advantage. As the story progresses, someone close to Hodges is involved in an accident that could have been suicidal in nature, only to learn that a handheld console, a Zap-It, apparently lulled the potential victim into throwing herself in front of a car. A similar Zap-It was found at the scene of the murder-suicide, alongside a letter describing a particular game found on the console. Hodges and Holly dig a little deeper and learn that there are ties between these consoles and victims of both events attributed to Hartsfield, but he remains in a coma and therefore could not be responsible. When approaching the authorities, Hodges is left in the dark and reminded of his retired state, only angering the former detective. While battling these mysteries, Hodges must also come to terms with a medical diagnosis sure to slow him down; one that he would rather shelve until after the investigation. As Hartsfield remains in the hospital, he seems to be able to use these telekinetic powers to have others do his bidding as he continues to haunt those he was unable to kill. As suicidal messages flood into the brains of many young people, Hodges must find a way to end this before many people clock out for their final End of Watch. How Hartsfield continues to play puppeteer from a hospital bed and the havoc that develops is revealed throughout King’s novel, though ne’er in a clear and precise manner. A brilliantly crafted novel that takes many turns as King helps the reader bid adieu to Hodges and the rest of his colourful ensemble.
Since discovering the greatness that is Stephen King, I have been amazed at the intricacy of his writing and the varied styles in which it is presented. Once the King of Horror (no pun intended), he has been able to morph away from the blood and gore and more into more of a psychological mystery that keeps some of his tried and tested ideas fresh. King uses detail to his advantages, particularly as he develops his main characters, tossing in minutiae in order to flesh out their normalcy, but also offering scores of other characters whose appearance sometimes does not last longer than a page. While many authors would be chastised for this, King’s use of these minor characters always has a purpose and therefore is to be applauded. While keeping the stories closer to home, the New England feel of the settings works well with the development of the story, allowing the small-town approach to work wonders as the characters utilise what is on offer to allow the narrative to grow. King is not one to regularly write multi-volume stories like this, which has forced him to keep the momentum up and attention to detail as a priority. The story flowed so well and the narrative remained synchronized that any reader who chose to read all three novels back to back would likely not notice too much of a disturbance. While dealing with some paranormal activities and placing a mystery within the bounds of the novel, King is also able to address the social issue of suicide, particularly that by teens, and uses this novel as a soapbox of sorts, crossing some subtlety rather than the inculcation of his points of view. This works well and keeps the reader attuned to some of the issues that are poignant, while also seeing how easy it can be to sway someone with the power of suggestion. While I could go on and on about King and the nuances he places in his writing, I will leave it to the reader to pull much from these pages, while seeking not to spoil too much. A fabulous piece of work that ends an entertaining series. If only all authors dedicated as much detail as King, readers would be in for a smorgasbord of superior novels, at least in my opinion.
Kudos Mr. King on another wonderful piece. I’ll not look at those pesky, mindless gaming apps the same way again, but will surely promote this book to anyone who will listen.