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S. J. Parris and Stephanie Merritt

Review < Back

Mr Mercedes – Stephen King's everyday killer of recession-hit America

Monday 9th June 2014

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Stephen King may be the acknowledged grand master of horror fiction, but he has always known that the everyday demons hiding behind the screen doors of small-town streets can chime with our deepest terrors just as effectively as the evil creature in the sewer. Mental illness, addiction, poverty, childhood trauma, alienation – these are the real monsters that crouch beneath the surface of our lives, and they stalk the pages of most of his fiction in one form or another, even in stories that appear to be concerned with more obviously supernatural forces of evil.

There is nothing paranormal about Mr Mercedes, his 57th novel. It's a good old-fashioned, race-against-time thriller with all the favourite tropes of the genre lined up from the off: the maverick detective who must operate outside the confines of the law; the killer with a personal vendetta and an unhealthy relationship with his mother; the band of misfits who cooperate to stop him before he can carry out his murderous plan. You might even say that these building blocks of the genre are familiar to the point of cliche; more interesting is the part that social realism plays in the machinery of this story. Mr Mercedesopens in 2009, as the recession tightens its grip on an unnamed midwestern city. A job fair is to be held at the sports stadium; the desperate unemployed turn up to queue in their thousands overnight. As dawn breaks, a sleek 12-cylinder Mercedes SL500 emerges out of the fog at speed and ploughs through the densely packed line, killing eight people and injuring 15 more. It's a sledgehammer of a metaphor: a luxury car heedlessly crushing those who are already victims of inequality. Immediately King has snared the reader's interest; is this killer politically motivated, and whose side is he on? ...

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