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Thursday, January 12, 2017

Finders Keepers

I don't know how many Stephen King books I've read--a lot--and I'm always amazed at how he draws in the reader. The prose flows so naturally, so effortlessly, it's like we're hearing him read it to us. There's no obfuscation, no experiment language, and a steady current of sardonic humor. Perhaps this is why he isn't taken seriously by many critics.

In Finders Keepers, the second in the Bill Hodges series, King does it again. This is a sequel to Mr. Mercedes, in which the hero was a retired detective. He's back again, but doesn't appear until near the middle of the book. Instead we're told two parallel stories. One, set in the 1979, concerns the murder of a J.D. Salinger-like author. He lives in seclusion in New Hampshire, and hasn't written in years. A young psychopath, Morris Bellamy, wants to know if he's written anything else, and robs him. The writer, John Rothstein, mocks him, and dies for his trouble.

Cut to nearly forty years later. The murder goes unsolved, but Bellamy is arrested for rape. A teenage boy, Pete Saubers, finds a trunk filled with cash and several dozen notebooks--the unpublished works of John Rothstein, hidden by Bellamy. So, as King alternates stories, we are led down the dark path to when Bellamy will meet our boy Pete.

With many King books I've dreaded both reading on and not being able to resist. This is the way of Finders Keepers. The forces of evil and good are on a collision course. The inclusion of Hodges, who now runs a private detective agency called Finders Keepers, is almost superfluous. His character development was the most important in Mr. Mercedes, but here he's more of a standard good guy. Two of his sidekicks from the first book, especially Holly Gibney, who appears to be somewhere on the autism spectrum, are back, but the story is about the nature of obsession and ownership. The title is a childish refrain that I still hear--a kid finds a pencil on the floor, so it's his, regardless of the claims of the person that dropped it. Bellamy is so obsessed with Rothstein that he can't stomach the idea of someone else possessing what he wants.

The killing of a writer by an obsessed fan may be a stretch, but it's certainly happened before in other areas, most notably John Lennon. King gives it a spin, though, as he is a voracious reader and probably has had his own scrapes with lunatics (and, of course, he wrote the ultimate obsessed fan book in Misery). This also allows him to give some of his opinions on writing: "A good novelist does not lead his characters, he follows them. A good novelist does not create events, he watches them happen and then writes down what he sees. A good novelist realizes he is a secretary, not God.”

I was talking to someone today who is a fan of King and read Mr. Mercedes, and said something I think is correct--the Hodges books are a different kettle of fish for him because they are not supernatural (at least not yet--there are hints to come that I'm sure are answered in the third book). Instead these two books are about monsters that are very much human, committing horrific acts of violence for the flimsiest of reasons--they're insane. My colleague was saying she did not like to read books like that, and I understand, But maybe that's why they get under my skin so much.

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