The last book in Stephen King’s latest endeavor, The Bill Hodges Trilogy, came out June 7. End of Watch is an apt title for it, to be sure, but I’d like to do more than just review that book. I’d like to look over the series as a whole.
As far as series go, it’s not one of my all-time favorites. That’s not to say I haven’t enjoyed it or that it was bad, but crime/mystery novels are not what I typically go in for. I enjoy thrillers, but this idea of the older detective and his plucky assistants is not within my wheelhouse. But it’s Stephen King. I’m going to read it if it’s King, and even though this isn’t my preferred genre, he brings enough to the table that I was invested and read each book as soon as it came out.
Mr. Mercedes, the first installment, is my favorite of the bunch. It was fast-paced. Brady as a character in particular felt well-crafted. While Bill Hodges is a typical King hero, he steps outside of the box slightly with Holly Gibney. The singular drawback of this book, and this extends to the whole series, is the pulpiness of it. That’s such a personal thing for me to dislike, as well, so it’s not likely everyone will feel that way. It’s clear King is pulling from his favorite detective novels, calling Hodges “old-school” and giving him a fedora and molding him into a gumshoe. I’m sure he wants it to be charming, but often it feels hokey. That aside, the plot was very engaging, and the open-ended finale compels you to read the next one.
The next one being the least of them all in my opinion, Finders Keepers. It takes half the book to set up the case, and the other half is spent with Hodges swiftly putting the pieces together and ending the whole thing. A slow build to a thrilling, yes, but swift conclusion. As a ravenous book eater, the plot did intrigue me. This idea of a writer with a manuscript that he hasn’t published and his “biggest fan” stealing it. I think any one of us who loves books is fascinated by an idea like that, but King mostly takes the writer’s side. As you’d expect he would. So that the ending that makes all of us gasp with dismay probably feels just right to him. King is a fan of reading, too, so I don’t think this was intentional, but there are whiffs of an author’s rights in there that don’t read as fun to this fan.
Then there’s the latest, End of Watch. There were hints in Finders Keepers that he was going to take this series where it landed, and here we are. I think this was a bold choice. One some fans will celebrate and some will give the big thumbs down. Personally I love King’s crazy horror roots, it’s what I’m here for, and I was pleasantly surprised by this one. This is a very close second to the first book, but it doesn’t quite match King’s initial inspiration and how on fire Mr. Mercedes felt. I did read this book in no-time flat, if that’s any indication of its worth.
This is one of those series that I want to love, but instead I like it a lot. There are a lot of reasons for that, like the one I listed above about not being a mystery reader. I’ve also read a lot of Stephen King. I am a Constant Reader from way back, so I know his tricks. He does manage to surprise me, but here he’s pulling out all the old favorites. Maybe that’s the fault of the person who read over 60 books by the same author, but there’s not much new to glean here other than him trying his hand at a different genre.
There’s more that irks me though. Like Bill Hodges being the perfect detective who is there to solve mysteries and have the outline of a likeable personality with little depth. Jerome, who is an excellent character if King could stop himself from giving him this little quirk… where he acts like the stereotype of a black man. A joke that King seems sure is landing beautifully when it truly isn’t.
And Holly. Holly has obscure mental illness syndrome, which makes her act in ways that indicate about a dozen different maladies. She’s “quirky” and “odd” and “peculiar”. She tends to make the other characters uncomfortable, so that when Jerome and Bill tolerate her, it elevates them to the level of saints. I love Holly for being representation of a thing myself and many people I know go through. I hate her for being a cartoony exaggeration of those things. I want to love her so much more, and I waffle and seesaw. She is one of the best worst characters I’ve ever read. One moment King has an incredible insight into people who hurt inside through her. The next she’s saying “fracking poopy” or quoting facts about a movie that no one wanted, and we’re all supposed to smirk. Such mixed feelings.
That’s a great word for my feelings about this series as a whole: mixed. This series is obviously great with a big scope. The books are utterly readable. Perfect summer reads packed with memorable characters and a wild ride. Overall I can say I enjoyed it and would give the thumbs up to anyone who is interested. But if asked to recommend King’s books to a newcomer, this wouldn’t be the first I’d jump to.
If you enjoyed this review and want to support me and my blog, check out my Redbubble shop. There are some Stephen King designs on there, if that’s what you dig. Buy something, share the link, every little bit helps. And as always, happy geeking!