As readers of my blog will have gathered, I'm an avid Stephen King fan; I'm working my way through all his supernatural thrillers. Apart from 'Nightmares and Dreamscapes' and the rather flat 'From a Buick 8', I've not yet read anything from King I haven't liked. So when I spotted the hardcover copy of 'End of Watch' in the supermarket, I bought it straight away. The novel is the final book in the Bill Hodges trilogy, the other two being 'Mr Mercedes' and 'Finders Keepers'. Here's my review of 'Mr Mercedes'; I didn't post a review for 'Finders Keepers', but I loved that one as well.
'End of Watch', eh? An intriguing title
The title, one that fits the story perfectly, comes from an American expression for police officers at the end of their working life. Those who retire permanently, or die. Which one will Bill Hodges do? He's certainly an engaging sleuth, although a somewhat stereotypical one: retired police officer, divorced, battling health problems and with a past drinking problem. He's teamed with Holly Gibney, a woman with multiple issues of her own, along with Jerome Robinson, a student and former lawn boy for Bill. Books one and three of the trilogy concentrate heavily on the evil Brady Hartsfield, a mass murderer who's also obsessed with suicide. The middle novel, 'Finders Keepers', diverts to explore one of King's favourite topics, the writing life, although it involves the Brady Hartsfield character as well. Here's the sales blurb for 'End of Watch':
'Retired Detective Bill Hodges now runs a two-person firm called Finders Keepers with his partner Holly Gibney. They met in the wake of the 'Mercedes Massacre' when a queue of people was run down by the diabolical killer Brady Hartsfield. Brady is now confined to Room 217 of the Lakes Region Traumatic Brain Injury Clinic, in an unresponsive state. But all is not what it seems: the evidence suggests that Brady is somehow awake, and in possession of deadly new powers that allow him to wreak unimaginable havoc without ever leaving his hospital room. When Bill and Holly are called to a suicide scene with ties to the Mercedes Massacre, they find themselves pulled into their most dangerous case yet, one that will put their lives at risk, as well as those of Bill's heroic young friend Jerome Robinson and his teenage sister, Barbara. Brady Hartsfield is back, and planning revenge not just on Hodges and his friends, but on an entire city. The clock is ticking in unexpected ways... Both a stand-alone novel of heart-pounding suspense and a sublimely terrifying final episode in the Hodges trilogy, 'End of Watch' takes the series into a powerful new dimension.'
Absorbing characters, pink fish and a fast pace
Sounds great, doesn't it? And 'End of Watch' delivers the goods. Brady Hartsfield is a wonderfully warped villain, aided by his sidekicks Felix Babineau and Library Al, both of whom end up zombie-fied after Brady invades their minds. Intent on revenge on Bill Hodges, Brady will stop at nothing to achieve his goal, as well as drive thousands of young people to kill themselves.
Although his brain was seriously damaged by Holly Gibney, Brady avails himself of new powers, possibly resulting from Felix Babineau using him in unauthorised drug trials. King also hints that the savage head blow dealt by Holly may also have contributed, allowing Brady to access the 90% of his brain that lies dormant in all of us. As his extraordinary powers grow, the deaths begin…
Stephen King is a master at creating memorable characters (think Jack Torrance, Annie Wilkes, Jake Epping). 'End of Watch' also has an interesting cast list, one that develops both Bill Hodges and Holly Gibney, more so the latter. Whilst it's not specifically mentioned, Holly is either autistic or has Asperger's syndrome, and the book shows her shedding her coping mechanisms as the story progresses. It's Brady Hartsfield, though, who receives the full Stephen King treatment, morphing from a catatonic invalid to a mind in motion, capable of transferring into other bodies at will. His evil mission poses a huge problem for Bill and Holly in their race to stop him. They can hardly tell the police what they suspect Brady is up to, after all!
I found some aspects of the plot a little far-fetched - the use of obsolete games consoles to facilitate mind control, for example, and the numerical pink fish. Perhaps that's a little unfair, as Brady's opportunities for evil are limited initially, and the use of technology, albeit outdated, fits what we already know of him as a computer expert. Besides, this is Stephen King, creator of Pennywise the Dancing Clown, supernatural cars and telekinetic teenagers. Beside them, digital pink fish seem small fry!
King can be verbose at times, but his mastery of words transcends what might grate if coming from a lesser writer. 'End of Watch' rollicks along at a fast pace towards the satisfying, if sad, conclusion. It can be read either as the third book in the 'Mr Mercedes' trilogy, or would work equally well as a standalone novel. If you're a fan of his novels, I suspect you'll love this book.
What about you?
Have you read 'End of Watch', or any of the other books in the trilogy? What did you think? Leave a comment and let me know!