Sunday, July 19, 2015

Finders Keepers

     Finders Keepers is the second book in a trilogy by Stephen King.  The trilogy begins with Mr. Mercedes and Bill Hodges' rush to find the serial killer, Brady Hartsfield, before he can kill again.  At the end of the first book, Brady Hartsfield has just awoken from a coma in a state mental hospital.  In the second book, he is semi-comatose, but Bill Hodges is convinced that Brady is faking.  The nurses report that strange things happen when Brady is around, including water turning itself on an off.  One of the nurses has just killed herself while on duty, which was one of the things Brady loved getting people to do in Mr. Mercedes.
     Although Brady was the main character in the first novel, he is only the structural support at the beginning and end of Finders Keepers.  In the second novel, we meet Morris Bellamy.  He is enamored with fictional character, Jimmy Gold.  Morris is angry that author John Rothstein stopped writing novels, but especially enraged that Rothstein let Jimmy Gold settle into a regular life.  When Morris hears that Rothstein has been writing in seclusion all of these years, he breaks in, steals the notebooks, and kills Rothstein.  Morris manages to bury the notebooks and money before he is picked up for a different crime and spends 30 years in prison.
     While he is in prison, a new family moves into the neighborhood.  Peter Saubers and his family live in Morris' old house.  Times are hard for the Saubers.  Peter's dad is one of the people injured by the Mercedes Killer in Mr. Mercedes.  He struggles to walk and is addicted to pain pills and alcohol. Peter's parents are on the brink of divorce when Peter discovers the trunk full of writing and money.  He sends $500 to his family each month until the money runs out four years later.  It is enough to get through the hard times.  Over the four years, Peter also reads John Rothstein's writings, including the final two books featuring Jimmy Gold.  Peter feels the same love and devotion to Jimmy Gold that Morris Bellamy feels for the character.
     Things are looking up for the Saubers, but Peter is concerned about sending his little sister to the best school so she will have a chance to overcome the hard times and go to a good college.  He asks his high school English teacher for a good place to sell a found novel from the past.  Peter chooses to take the notebook to the disreputable salesman to see if he can make enough money to send his sister to school.  The salesman blackmails Peter and threatens to call the police if Peter doesn't give him all of the notebooks.  Peter thinks that is the worst of his troubles.  He doesn't know that Morris has been paroled and is ready to kill anyone who stops him from having his notebooks.
     Bill Hodges joins the fray and finds himself in another race against time to stop a murder.  Jerome and Holly, from Mr. Mercedes join in and the trio sets out to get to Peter before Morris does.
     I like this book a lot.  It is a great look at a literary life.  There are lots of points to ponder like, "What makes a book worth being remembered?  Is an author's characters more valuable than the human author?  Who does the author owe the most responsibility to - himself, the character, or the reader?  Does an author follow where a character leads or force the character to do what the author wants?  Are there things that matter in life or in the words of Jimmy Gold, 'Shit don't mean shit.'"
     I would have liked this book even more if it was a stand alone book and not part of the trilogy.  The characters unique to this book were well-developed, intriguing, and plausible.  The second half seems more forced as Stephen King brings in Bill Hodges to save the day.  It also feels forced to come back to Brady Hartsfield at the end of the book.  However, since this is part of a trilogy, this may all come together in the third book and change my take on the ending of Finders Keepers.  
     The book reads quickly, even though there is not as much action as Mr. Mercedes.
     I really like the character of Morris Bellamy.  He is a unique character that is so obsessed with a character that he is literally willing to kill for him.  His obsession gives him something to live for, even in the darkest moments in prison.  This single-minded focus makes his final actions believable and even more powerfully horrifying.
     You do not need to read Mr. Mercedes to enjoy or understand Finders Keepers.  The author gives you enough background to understand who the people are and what is happening.
     You should be cautioned that there is some language, violence, and sexual violence; after all this is Stephen King.

Mr. Mercedes

     Brady Hartsfield, aka Mr. Mercedes, is a serial killer.  As a young boy, he kills his handicapped little brother with his mother's help.  Once his  brother is gone, Brady and his mother live together in an incestuous relationship.
     In his early twenties, he decides to kill again.  This time he steals Olivia Trelawney's Mercedes and drives it into a crowd of people waiting in line at a job fair.  Eight people are killed and many more are injured.  He is never caught.  The police accuse Olivia of leaving the car unlocked and allowing the murderer access to her car.  Although she swears she locked the car, there are no signs of breaking and entering or of being hotwired.  Olivia commits suicide a short time later and cements the police's belief that she was guilty.
     Bill Hodges was assigned to the case, but retired without catching The Mercedes Killer.  Six months later, he is divorced, lonely, and suicidal.  His favorite pastime is holding his gun in his mouth while watching daytime tv.  He gets a taunting letter from Mr. Mercedes claiming to be the killer of the eight people at the job fair, as well as driving Olivia to suicide.  The letter also taunts Bill about never catching him and of being washed up and suicidal.
     The letter intrigues Bill to find the killer before Mr. Mercedes can kill anyone else.  He is helped by Olivia's sister, Janey, Janey's mentally ill cousin, Holly, and a young neighbor, Jerome.  Together they race against time to stop Brady before he can kill again.
     I really like this book.  It is fast-paced and hard to put down.  The middle slows a bit, but speeds back up to a memorable conclusion at a concert full of young girls and their mothers.
     The characters are well-developed and interesting, especially Brady Hartsfield.  Stephen King does an excellent job of placing us in the mind of a serial killer whose grip on reality is slipping, especially after his mom's gruesome death.  He is creepy, horrible, and yet, still has moments of love, fear, and regret.  I enjoyed the gray shades in this character, rather than a black and white bad guy.           The same can be said for Bill Hodges.  Although he is a retired police officer and one of the good guys, his quick assumptions about people lead to Olivia's suicide, as well as Janey's death.  The gray shadings of the characters show the sophistication of the writer in developing believable characters that are human, in all of the best and worst ways.
     Although parts of the book, especially the ending situation that keeps all of the other police from being available to help, were contrived to fit the plot, I still enjoyed it.  It is a great mystery novel with good pacing and intriguing characters.  It is different than Stephen King's other novels, but does not disappoint.
     It is part of a trilogy.  The second book in the series is Finders Keepers and the third book has a current working title of End of Watch.