By Andrew Buckner
Rating: ***** out of *****.
End of Watch (2016) oversees incomparable best-selling author Stephen King concluding his Bill Hodges Trilogy, which began with the riveting and Edgar Award winning Mr. Mercedes (2014) and continued with the experimentally designed Finders Keepers (2015), in spectacular fashion. Published by Scribner on June 7th, the 432 page volume is a labyrinthine maze of a novel. King has given us another instant classic. It radiates as another wildly inventive, skillfully paced example of why King endures as such a beloved storyteller. He is one who has captivated audiences for over four decades. Two years ago, I wrote that Mr. Mercedes was “elaborately conceived” and “worthy of Hitchcock”. The same sentiment certainly applies here. It even elucidates much the same relentless tone and sheer, compulsive enjoyment as Mr. Mercedes. End of Watch is a worthy, fitting finish. It is every bit on par with the initial effort which started this fascinating, ambitious, hard-boiled detective series.
To its further credit, the work cracks with King’s sharp focus on characterization. He also sews his believable, sinister situations into often darkly comic humor. Likewise, his singular metaphors, vivid imagery and fluently engaging style are engraved deep into the fabric of the narrative. Such makes the experience all the more endlessly absorbing. It is also, much in the King tradition, ingeniously structured and plotted. King frequently fashions white-knuckle suspense, with touches of the supernatural and the everyday, gradually. This is issued organically and entertainingly throughout the entirety of this masterfully macabre ride. He creates a mounting wall of dread that is introduced strongly early on. True to King’s conventions, it mercilessly builds upon itself. There are also subtle references to both his prior undertakings, with The Shining (1977) being the most evident among them, and pop culture articles carefully, and with a wink to his audience, placed throughout the entirety. We are also, refreshingly, given an anything but overblown climax. It only adds to the realism King so ingeniously mirrors his latest tour de force after. The true to life drama and moments of heart King derives from these jarring circumstances, most visible in the last few pages, make this full-throttle investigative chronicle all the more well-rounded and illuminating. King’s ‘constant readers’, as well as those who are simply looking for a gripping account, will leave the tale fully satisfied.
The fiction concerns the infamous Mercedes killer, Brady Hartsfield, who remains one of the most purely wicked and intriguing antagonists conceived by King, slowing gaining power. This is while appearing dormant in hospital room 217. He is still in a persistent vegetative state. When a rash of suicides, many of them are individuals who have come into contact with Hartsfield at one point or another, begin to accrue: Hodges, who is suffering from pancreatic cancer, and his movie-loving partner, Holly Gibney, have an unshakable, inexplicable feeling that it is Hartsfield himself who is the cause of these tragedies. What is just as odd is that all of these horrific events are traced back to a cartoonish game, with potent hypnotic abilities, called Fishin’ Hole. Yet, what are these voices players seem to hear coming from the app? Furthermore, how does the letter ‘X’, which is left at many of the crime scenes, tie into all of this? Hodges and Gibney, who are eventually re-teamed with the computer savvy Jerome Robinson, must solve this case. This is before this wave of self-killings becomes an epidemic which wipes out hundreds or even thousands.
Hodges, Gibney and Robinson are as likable as ever. The dialogue King presents them is always absorbing. This attribute is lively and beautifully put together. It is easy to equate their mutual speeches to the conversations three real life friends may have. This is especially accurate considering being confronted with the puzzle, which is just as mesmerizing itself as Fishin’ Hole is to its victims, as the one King presents to them and, simultaneously, his legion of enthusiastic fans. King also weaves pivotal information from the past two entries in a seamless, diverting fashion. At no point does any of this feel forced, as it may with a less capable auteur. Additionally, those who have not had the pleasure of becoming lost in the world conjured by the other two installments in this saga will have no problem following this mesmerizing volume. For those of us who have perused the tomes, it offers a pleasant reminder of details that might have become a fuzzy effect of time. He also introduces other on-going personas, such as Hodges former police colleague, Pete Huntley, just as logically into the proceedings. He blends the perspectives of these individuals just as well into this striking exertion. These specifics are all further indications of the literary prowess King has injected into every technical venue herein.
The result of these components are highly addictive. King deserves every ounce of the acclaim he has attained throughout his career. He hits every note necessary for a wholly filling venture. This is done, as expected, with increasing interest and gusto. He draws us in with his opening words. This is by recreating the events which commenced Mr. Mercedes from an entirely new viewpoint. From then on we are trapped in the grim web that is End of Watch. We are gripped in this manner through the duration. King’s incredible imagination and ability to pull horror from mundane daily occurrences is in full swing here. It is as welcome, and tremendously wrought, as ever. He will have you seeing pink fish, and the various other more terrifying mental picture he invokes from them, swimming through the electronic currents of your nightmares. All the while, you will be as entranced by King’s brilliant, often cinematic, writing skills. This is yet another masterpiece in a career rich with titles where such a term can easily be equated. The king of the terror genre has returned and he is as amazing as ever. End of Watch stands alongside The Fireman by King’s son, Joe Hill, as another example of the year’s best books!