“Shit don’t mean shit”
After a prologue set in the 1970s, Finders Keepers begins on the very same night as Mr Mercedes, with an out-of-work man queueing for a 2009 job fair which we know won’t happen. Because of ’Mr Mercedes’.
The storyline set in the past, where an elderly writer is assaulted in his home, has no immediately obvious bearing on this tragedy. In Morris Bellamy, the young literature fan who helms the crime, the book finds an equivalent to Brady in Mr Mercedes, though. Almost void of empathy and capable of horrific acts but with elements of humanity and a detached sense of dark humour. A creature not unlike Pinkie in Brighton Rock.
The threads converge when the boy in a problem-stricken family finds a strange treasure buried three decades ago. The problems are, of course, born of the 2009 vehicle attack. The seeming solution is a treasure buried after the assault on the writer. The boy, Pete, decides to use it to play the part of secret helper, bringing his family much needed relief. But the treasure is not confined to cash. There are notebooks as well. And for the ageing Morris, whose prison term (for an unrelated crime) is finally coming to an end, these are way more important.
King has tried many styles of writing and I like them all. That said, the sparse but vivid prose he employs in the ‘Hodges books’ is particularly great. He is always good with atmosphere and setting, but in these books he seems to take special delight in description, mixing the laconic tone of a hardboiled detective novel with vivid, often funny imagery.
“He spoke not in the tentative tenor of your usual adolescent, but in a confident, husky baritone that seemed far too big for the chicken chest lurking behind the purple rag of his tie.”
It’s also a book about reading and writing, topics famously dear to mr King, and through (among other things) a quirky literature teacher he seizes every opportunity to impart exhilarating wisdom on the subject. Two main characters, with wildly different temperaments but equally invested in the same writer, with occasionally parallel story arcs and even inhabiting the same house in different eras, represent two sides of the consummate Reader.
Fittingly, it’s a book that effortlessly keeps your interest, with comical details and small surprises tucked into the bigger narrative. With new and often sympathetic characters alongside familiar ones, all of them elegantly connected and with their part to play.
As for the returning characters, Bill Hodges may not be King’s most charismatic character to date, but it’s nice to see the evolution of Holly, the former ‘hikikomori’, whose quirks are fondly and funnily captured without a hint of mockery. Jerome is a good character but his antics as ‘Tyrone Feelgood’ exemplify an area where I feel King rarely excels: adding comedy through characters trying to be funny. Like Eddie in The Dark Tower, he’s best when he’s not joking around.
Even though the book spans less than 400 pages, King also manages to squeeze in a brutal, almost darkly comical version of The Shawshank Redemption.
Three quarters in, a quite extraordinary element is added to the mix. Something involving Brady Hartsfield. Something very King, yet, one thought, not to be expected in this book. But that’s just a brief interlude (or teaser of things to come) in a tale of obsession, good intentions gone bad and strange coincidences. With a finale almost as tense and twice as violent as that of Mr Mercedes.
And one heck of a spooky epilogue.