Monday, June 30, 2014

In Barcelona: The Summer of Dead Toys and The Good Suicides, by Antonio Hill

Moving from France to Spain, I've discovered Antonio Hill, author of The Summer of Dead Toys and The Good Suicides.  Here's another case where, imho,  the first book in the series turned out to be better than the next. Both are good,  both have unique stories to tell, and in both, past events have a bearing on the present.   The Summer of Dead Toys and The Good Suicides both take place in Barcelona, home of the main character, Inspector Hector Salgado, a native Argentinian who is now living and working in Spain.

The Summer of Dead Toys finds Salgado back home in Barcelona, back  after being forced to take a leave while on probation, for letting his temper get away with him during the investigation of a human trafficking case.  Now that he's back, he hasn't forgotten why he was sent away, and neither have his superiors. The first case that hits his desk is that of nineteen year-old Marc Castells, son of Enric Castells, a successful businessman whose name has been mentioned more than once in connection with "a couple of right-wing parties" that would "like to have him in their ranks." 

Crown, 2012
oriignally published as El verano de los jugetes muertos, 2011
translated by Laura McGloughlin
353 pp

Marc's fall from an apartment balcony was ruled an accident, but the mother who abandoned him as an infant isn't so sure. She wants someone to "dedicate more time" to her son's death, and Salgado's superior Savall tasks him with quietly asking a few questions in this "unofficial" case.  As Salgado and his partner Leire Castro start making the rounds of friends, family and anyone else who might have known Marc, they also start noticing things that just don't add up. When a second death occurs, they know that there's much more here than meets the eye.  They begin to piece together what little information they can gather, and soon it snowballs into a complicated case where  "the threads ...  seemed to be multiplying, pointing in different directions..."   In the meantime, Salgado also comes to realize that his business with his former nemesis in the human trafficking case is still very much unfinished. 

Told via several points of view, The Summer of Dead Toys is a good, challenging mystery that eventually brings the past under present scrutiny, and has as two of its main themes personal responsibility and justice.  There is one point in this book where Salgado asks a very pertinent question:

"Justice is a two-way mirror...On one side it reflects the dead and on the other the living. Which of the two seems more important to you?"

He can make allowances -- even though he's volatile and quick to anger, he also appreciates what his co-workers and friends do for him when things aren't going so well.  But one of his best qualities is that he is a seeker of truth and knows that "there's only one truth, for the living and the dead." This trait, along with his need to be a good dad after having had such a terrible one, helps to define who he is in the world.

 There are more than a couple of subplots that keep things interesting, and the ending, without spoiling things, leads nicely into Hill's second series installment, The Good Suicides, although here's a classic Catch-22: I can't really say much about one major subplot of the second book without ruining the first. 

Crown, 2013
originally published as Los Buenos Suicidas, 2012
translated by Laura McGloughlin
338 pp

received from the publisher via "Blogging For Books" in exchange for a review

A phone call in the wee hours of the morning brings an already-awake Hector Salgado down to the metro station at  Plaça Urquinaona, where it seems that a woman identified as Sara Mahler has committed suicide by jumping into the path of an oncoming train.  A kid stole the dead woman's cell phone, but was made to return it by his brother, who handed it over to the police.  The only thing on the phone was a photo showing the weirdest thing: three hanged dogs suspended by ropes in a tree, captioned with the words NEVER FORGET.  Investigating Sara's death, Salgado and his new partner Agent Fort (taking Leire Castro's place since she's on maternity leave) discover that Sara worked for Alemany Cosmetics.  At Sara's apartment, Fort discovers a photo of Sara with a group of her co-workers at a team retreat, and recognizes someone in the picture -- Gaspar Rodenas, who the previous September, had killed his wife, their fourteen-month old baby and then himself. When a third employee dies, Salgado knows that somehow all of these deaths are connected -- and that they all have something to do with the bizarre photo of the dead dogs in the tree. But what? No one is talking, yet he strongly intuits that some kind of cover up is going on.   While Hector and Agent Fort are busy trying to uncover the significance of the strange photo of the dogs, Leire Castro is bored on her maternity leave and wants something challenging to occupy her time.  She decides that a certain missing persons case is just the ticket, and convinces a friend in the police to get her the files.  She starts combing through them, and although she's supposed to be resting, what she discovers is enough to set her ennui aside and get out and investigate this case -- one that she knows is near and dear to Hector Salgado's heart.  These two major narratives alternate with the points of view of the group from the retreat, who hold the keys to the secrets behind the deaths. 

In The Good Suicides, the author reaffirms Salgado's focus on justice and his need to root out the truth, no matter what.  As he says to one of the characters in this story,
"...little by little the truth rises to the surface ... That's what my work consists of. Bringing the truth to light, exposing it for everyone to see. And I assure you, I enjoy it."
The more he tries to ferret out the real story, the more guarded the principals involved become, frustrating Salgado to no end.  Yet as he's trying to piece it all together, he's also trying to be a good dad to his teenaged son, which in turn makes him reflect on certain events in his past, and how that past had a bearing on who he is now.

While I have a couple of issues with this book, overall, it's a pretty good read.  I like this inspector, I like the way Mr. Hill writes, and above all, I like how he uses the past as a catalyst for what happens in the present. This is best exemplified in his Summer of Dead Toys, although it's also the case here, albeit with a shorter time span.  And in both books, the revelations are surprising -- I never guessed the who or the why at all.   However, as I said earlier, I found  The Summer of Dead Toys to be a better read than The Good Suicides. Normally it's not this way -- usually I expect the first novel in a series to be a little rougher since the author hasn't quite got his characters fully fleshed out or he/she hasn't quite settled into a style of writing.  In both books, the reader feels like he/she's known Salgado for a while already, since his character springs into life pretty much right away.   Both books also contain  an interesting and very challenging mystery at the novel's heart that once revealed, gives the reader an understanding behind the crimes that take place in that story.  The real problem for me  in The Good Suicides is all of the extraneous stuff that could have been left out with no problem. First, there's a superfluous storyline about one of the men at the Alemany company who is engaged to the owner's sister who allows himself to be seduced by his soon-to-be sixteen year-old stepdaughter.  Not only does it have no place in this story, but I mean, come on! A possibly-incestuous affair? Major turn off.  Second, I know that characterization is key, and I get that a big focus in these two novels is on parenthood, but I could have also done without Leire's  repeated musings on Tomas (the baby's father) and  on how she'll be raising her baby.  Aaarrrghhh! Maybe other readers are really into this sort of thing, but for me, it just detracts from the main storylines and is actually a distraction when I'm much more interested in why these people all died and how Salgado is going to shake loose the truth.  

In the long run, however, if and when another Inspector Salgado novel comes out in translation, I'll be shelling out the money to buy a copy.  There's still a HUGE unfinished and ongoing plot element to be explored that I'd like to see through to the end, and as I said, I've come to like this guy.  And I have to say that I think it's very funny that in both books, when there are crimes committed with guns, Mr. Hill makes some sarcastic wisecrack about Americans and their love affair with guns. He's right on the money and it's interesting to see one little peek into how Americans are perceived abroad, well, at least in that area.  So yes, I'll be clicking that buy button when the next one comes out.

crime fiction from Spain

Friday, June 27, 2014

July 2014 is International Crime Fiction Month

image from Melville House

In my weekly roaming through my favorite websites, I came across a press release at Melville House announcing that July, 2014 has been designated as International Crime Month.  According to the article, Melville House UK, EuropaNo Exit Press, and Serpent’s Tail "have joined forces to promote one of the most vital and socially significant fiction genres of our time. International Crime Month will be a month-long initiative running throughout July 2014 and will feature internationally acclaimed crime fiction authors, editors, critics, and publishers."

To quote just another paragraph or two, the aim is "to spotlight and celebrate the incredibly rich genre that is international crime fiction. This is fiction that offers readers a cast of writers and stories originating from every corner of the globe, resulting in books that thrill and disturb, while also raising serious questions about the political structures within which their protagonists operate.

The initiative will highlight new titles from Melville House UK’s International Crime series, Europa’s World Noir imprint, No Exit Press and Serpent’s Tail’s crime fiction. The four authors in focus are Mallock (Europa Editions), Wolf Haas (Melville House UK), Adrian McKinty (Serpent’s Tail) and Barry Forshaw (No Exit Press)."

As a huge fan and reader of international crime, Hooray for this initiative! I'll be following what's happening here  throughout the month of July.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

In the interim: The Drowning pool, by American classic crime writer Ross Macdonald

Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, 1996
originally published 1950
244 p

"I drew back from the whirling vortex that had opened, the drowning pool."

I'm waiting for my copy of Antonio Hill's The Good Suicides to get here, so while it's traveling my way, I picked this book at random  from my home crime library.  The Drowning Pool is Ross Macdonald's second book in his Lew Archer series, but it's my first foray into this author's work.  [As an aside, for some reason I thought this one was the first, so since I  find it positively  anathema to start a series with any other book but the first in the series, I bought the opener The Moving Target as soon as I realized my error.  Just haven't read it yet.]  I think that Archer is a guy I will enjoy reading more about. With eighteen series novels and two short story collections, there's a lot about this  world-weary gumshoe to explore.

Lew Archer is called upon to investigate an anonymous poison pen letter sent to his client, Maude Slocum.  Maude's beyond worried about her mother-in-law, Olivia, finding any more letters that might be sent, since she, her husband James, and their daughter Cathy are reliant upon Olivia's  financial support and live in her house. Archer's been given very little to go on, but he wangles an invitation to a party at Mrs. Slocum's house, allowing him to size up both the situation and the people who attend, one of whom just might be the letter writer.  When he decides to call it quits for the night,  he takes himself and a fellow passenger he's picked up near the house down to a bar in an oil-rich California town called Nopal Valley, only to be picked up as part of a murder investigation into Olivia's untimely death in the backyard swimming pool.  As it turns out, Archer was the last to see her alive, so the police really want to talk to him. But Olivia's death is merely the tip of this iceberg of a case, and as Archer soon discovers, only the beginning of a number of deaths that ensue as he doggedly tries to get to the truth.

The Drowning Pool must have caused quite a stir when published in 1950, with its crystal-clear references to homosexuality, prostitution, dysfunctional families, and illicit sex. Macdonald also explores the corporate world here along with the rich and extremely powerful people who inhabit it, and  the defacing of once beautiful California landscapes. As he notes while floating leisurely in the Pacific,
 "They had jerrybuilt the beaches from San Diego to the Golden Gate, bulldozed superhighways through the mountains, cut down a thousand years of redwood growth, and built an urban wilderness in the desert."
Oil derricks are also now becoming as commonplace  as telephone poles.

Character-wise, Archer is intriguing. He hates phonies. He's on the front lines of  understanding what human beings can do to themselves and to each other, but at the same time, he demonstrates compassion and empathy when people open up to him about their troubles.  He says in this story that he doesn't know what justice is, but
"Truth interests me, though. Not general truth if there is any, but the truth of particular things. Who did what when why."
and in this book, his need to get to the "truth of particular things" lands him hot water more than once, but he never stops looking until the end. Speaking of the end, I'm not so sure it's the best ending this book could have had, but as Archer himself notes, "The happy endings and the biggest oranges were the ones that California saved for export."

I love discovering "new" authors, and I liked The Drowning Pool enough to merit another go at Macdonald.  The plot is heavy and convoluted, but well worth it in the long run.   Recommended mainly to readers of hard-boiled fiction, but people looking to connect with classic American crime fiction will like this one as well. 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Booyah! crime segments got a mention today in Thriller Books Journal

My blog got mentioned alongside those of two other crimeloving bloggers,  Col from Col's Criminal Library and Sarah from Crimepieces, in Thriller Books Journal today under "Crime Fiction Blogs Worth Investigating."  They also mentioned  The Guardian's Crime Fiction Page and Crime Fiction Lover.  Congrats to Col and to Sarah, and I am so appreciative of someone even mentioning my crime blog that all I can say is thank you!   And oh yes ....BOOYAH!

a beyond dynamic duo by Fred Vargas: The Three Evangelists and Dog Will Have His Day

Fred Vargas is already of one my favorite French crime writers with her Adamsberg series, and now I've discovered her Three Evangelists novels. Like the Adamsberg novels, they're filled with very quirky characters, they're humorous in a very wry sort of way,  and they have a whodunit at their respective cores that needs solving.  And also like the books in the Adamsberg series, they're fun.  The Three Evangelists and Dog Will Have His Day are great summer reads and very welcome additions to my ever-growing library of French crime.

First up - where it all began -

The Three Evangelists, by Fred Vargas
Vintage UK, 2006
292 pp
originally published as Debout les morts, 1995
translated by Sian Reynolds
(bought from the UK)

Former opera star Sophia Siméonidis is staring out of her window one morning while sitting with her newspaper-reading husband Pierre, and notices a tree in her yard where there wasn't one before. She knows the gardener didn't plant it; he'd been gone for a couple of months and Sophia never replaced him. She tells her husband that the tree frightens her -- she has a good sense that something is just not right. While Pierre tries to convince her otherwise, Sophia can't shake her feeling. So, a month after three down on their luck, out of work academics (Marc, Lucien, and Mathias) move in to the "disgrace" (the house) next door,  with Marc's godfather Armand Vandoosler, she offers them money to dig it up. She just wants to see if there's anything beneath it. They find nothing, and go on about their business. Marc also takes a job at a nearby cafe owned by another neighbor, so he is there working when, for the first time in years, Sophia doesn't show up for her regular Thursday lunch. As time passes and still no Sophia, her husband doesn't seem to be too worried, and as our heroes remember the tree incident, the four men decide that it's time to start looking for her. 

In The Three Evangelists, it is Vargas'  characters that stand out above all else. The "Three Evangelists" of the title are so called because Vandoosler has nicknamed the three academics St. Matthew, St. Mark, and St. Luke, and sometimes refers to them as "the time detectives."  All four live on separate floors of the house. Mathias likes to go around naked, a prehistorian "hostile to anything that had occurred since 10,000 BC."  Marc, Vandoosler's nephew and godson, is a medieval historian, and Lucien works on the history of World War I. Vandoosler himself is an ex-cop, a "commissaire in criminal justice," and "dismissed with dishonour" after twenty-eight years for letting a murderer escape. But, as his nephew notes, "he's still a flic," and he also maintains contacts with his former colleagues. Together they are among the quirkiest group of characters I've ever encountered.  The mystery is a good one as well -- once Sophia disappears and the "time detectives" start looking into things, they uncover a whole slew of people who might want Sophia out of the way for various reasons.   It is an old-fashioned whodunit that is surrounded on all sides by character quirkiness, humor, and small little details that will give armchair detectives a run for their money.   

 Dog Will Have His Day is the follow-up novel to The Three Evangelists, with a new main character who is as

Harvill Secker, 2014
244 p
originally published as Un peu plus loin sur la droite, 1996
translated by Sian Reynolds

from the UK

delightfully offbeat as the four in the previous book. This is Ludwig Kehlweiler, who goes by Louis, Ludwig, or  Louis-Ludwig, a former cop and "free electron -- needed, hated, indispensable, and highly paid" by the Ministry. Now they are "getting rid of him, they distrusted him: with reason," perhaps because he keeps notes and records of people and old cases. Louis still has connections to people in high places and to other cops.  He wrecked his knee under hazy circumstances he changes in the telling.  He is also known to some as "The German," born in 1945 to a German father and a French mother. Dad is still living somewhere across the Rhine, but Louis doesn't talk much about his own origins. He  lost his girlfriend when she  walked out on him after only five months of living together. He also has a pet toad named Bufo, who goes where Louis goes, often spending time in his pocket or cooling down in sinks under  faucets. Nowadays,  with the help of his friend Marthe, Louis keeps tabs on people. He has given every bench in the city of Paris a number, and he is currently keeping someone across from Bench 102 under surveillance with the help of a friend named Vincent and with an aging ex-prostitute named Marthe, who "had once been the most beautiful taxi girl on the Left Bank."

  It is during one of these surveillance jobs that the story begins, as Kehlweiler notices a white fragment of some sort near a tree next to Bench 102. It turns out to be a piece of a human bone that had been in a pile of washed-away dog poop.  On further analysis, it's the bone at the tip of a toe. The Paris police (headed by Adamsberg's replacement) don't have any answers, so Kehlweiler enlists the help of Marc Vandoosler (the St. Mark of The Three Evangelists) who is currently helping Kehlweiler maintain his archives of records.  After watching the newspapers, one case strikes their fancy: the case of an elderly woman who slipped off some rocks off of the Breton coast in a small town called Port-Nicolas. Marc thinks his friend Lucien (the St. Luke from The Three Evangelists) will also be of help.  The murder mystery is twisty, with a number of potential suspects and lots of red herrings -- but there's something else going on as well.  It seems that  Kehlweiler also has his own special agenda, one that like the murder's solution, will look back to the past  to bring order into the present.

There is a lot going on in this twisty puzzler of a whodunit, and like The Three Evangelists, Dog Will Have His Day consists of layer upon layer of eccentric characters and wry humor surrounding the central mystery.  I love Fred Vargas' books; with her,  I've come to expect some pretty good mysteries along with some quirky personalities who do or say things that make me laugh in the middle of a serious murder investigation.  Not everyone will get her humor, and more's the pity, because her books are so enjoyable, and moreover, they are definitely far off the beaten mainstream path, a quality I really enjoy in all of her novels.  She must have a blast creating these characters and these crazy plots -- and I have a blast reading them.  The only thing that made me unhappy with this book is that on the inside dustjacket cover blurb, it says "A Three Evangelists Novel," when really only a couple of the three are there and it's just not the same flavor as the original when they were all working together.

Both books are highly recommended, although I'd read The Three Evangelists prior to Dog Will Have His Day to get a good line on the characters.Have fun with these books -- I certainly did!

crime fiction from France

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Morituri, by Yasmina Khadra

Toby Press, 2004
originally published in 1997
translated by David Herman
137 pp


"There are matters one deals with, and there are those one avoids like the plague."

Since I've been reading so much eurocrime lately, I decided to take a break and move to another part of the world with Morituri. The author, Yasmina Khadra, who might be recognizable as the writer  of The Swallows of Kabul (a book I freely admit to never having read), is actually a former high-ranking Algerian army officer named Mohammed Moulessehoul.  Using this pseudonym  allowed him the freedom to "avoid military censorship" as the bio blurb in the back of the book states. He left Algeria in 2000,  and it wasn't until 2001, as an exile in France, that he publicly revealed his true identity.  Morituri is a very dark book, with zero light in the telling, but aside from some issues with the translation, it's a very well-written crime novel that takes the reader right onto the streets of Algiers during its civil war.

Morituri   may  be among the most atmospheric of novels I've ever read.  Set in 1990s Algiers,  the reader immediately becomes immersed into the dangers that exist on the streets.  For the main character in this book, Police Superintendent Llob, even the most simple act of getting to work just might be his last.  He has become a "privileged target" in a city where the cops have to "disguise" their routines as a security precaution. Firemen recovering corpses are blown up because bodies are often booby trapped. The city is under a zealously-enforced curfew, random bombings are nothing new, and people in high places are  bought and paid for. Islamic fundamentalism is rearing its head in the city and throughout the country, and the civil war is in full swing.  

While this novel is definitely an action-packed crime read, there's way more to it than simply following cops around in their investigations. For example, one of the main ideas espoused in this story is that the rise of Islamic fundamentalism is really a screen behind which the power/money brokers can elevate and assert their own financial interests.  Superintendent Llob is made all too aware of this underlying reality when he is tasked to  take on the thankless and, as it turns out, very dangerous task of finding the daughter of the highly influential Ghoul Malek. But it's what he doesn't know that should worry him -- here, nothing is at all what it seems to be.   Another facet of this novel is revealed as Llob and his assistant Lino take to the streets -- their forays take them from the protected  enclaves of the rich and powerful where the war " hasn't enough courage to risk encroaching on their domain,"  into impoverished areas torn apart by violence where fear and terror are constants.  It is a place, he tells Lino, where
"everyone is engaged in building palaces for their offspring and no one thinks of building a homeland for them."
Yet another big idea contained within this book is how an honest, upright  man can not only function, but also cope in this climate of raw corruption, terror, and fear.

 Morituri is really an amazing novel, but the reading was really tough in places because of the  idiomatic  or other language choices used in translation that often threw me off.   I eventually learned to get over the translation issue, although it still made for a choppy read. Having said that, the book is very dark, very edgy, and the descriptions of Algeria during this time are just downright scary.  It is also a novel chock full of contrasts.  One  of my favorite parts of this novel is near the end, when Llob parks his car at the top of Notre Dame and looks out over the port.  He muses about the Casbah of the past filled with colorful people who were "all poor," but who "floated on the surface of harsh disappointments with a rare sobriety, keeping watch for the slightest light to be inspired by it."  Then right away,  he turns it around to the present,  reflecting on how memories became "deprived of the sun," and how evening had "settled in our hearts."   It's just that kind of writing that got me through the rough patches here.

I've already picked up book two in this series trilogy (Double Blank, Autumn of the Phantoms), so obviously this first book was good enough to merit the reading of the second installment.  This probably isn't a book for everyone, but readers of dark and edgy crime fiction should like it, once they acknowledge the language issues.

 crime fiction from Algeria

a novel idea: the novel as an app: revisiting Border Field Blues, by Corey Lynn Fayman

Create Space, 2012
316 pp

Last November I read and wrote about this indie novel that takes place in San Diego (quite well written, actually)  and today I'm revisiting Border Field Blues because its author, Corey Lynn Fayman, has come up with an interactive version of this book.  The idea is that now instead of just reading, readers can more fully experience his book. To be very blunt, I'm not pimping for this author, but he's one of the few indie crime writers whose work I have really enjoyed, so this post is my way of helping him out a little. Plus, I think that there are some positives to this sort of interactive approach, although personally I'm not quite ready to abandon my hardcovers and paperbacks and go whole hog into e-readers just yet. Yes yes, I'm behind the times, but well, too bad. But I'm in the minority, so for the multitudes who have everything on their e-reader, this technology would be a definite plus.

According to a press release I received, in the App Edition of  Border Field Blues there are "extra online elements" at the end of each chapter allowing readers to "selectively interact with various aspects of the book."  These include the following:

  •  Author's notes & photos on how he came up with plot, locations and characters
  • Related videos
  • Interactive maps
  • A reader comment section
  • Direct email access to the author
  •  Facebook sharing and comments.
I have a link to a short little youtube video where you can see how this concept in action.

Currently, you’ll need an  iPad  or Kindle Fire to use the app, which is little bit of a downside if you don't have either one.

Mr. Fayman had already encountered "some interesting interactive books developed for non-fiction titles," with  “gadgetry” within the text, (interactive graphics, charts, videos), useful for illuminating a key concept. He's also come across such "gadgetry" in fiction, but for him, it only "interrupted the flow of the text".  So his idea was to add  interactive technologies at the end of each chapter, keeping the flow moving within the narrative.  As just one example of how this works in Mr. Fayman's novel, his  protagonist Rolly Waters is a guitar player, and in one scene, he's at a  guitar store talking  to the owner about the “Three Kings” of electric blues guitar.  As he notes in an interview,
"Most people know B.B. King, but not everybody has heard of Freddie or Albert King. So in the app section, I include some concert footage of them both. Readers will enjoy the story just as well without hearing them, but it does expand their appreciation of the characters’ world to see the videos and hear their music."
He also remarks that some people have told him that the photos and videos from Border Field Park helped them picture the environment there better.
 The author also believes that the benefits of this sort of interactive approach would be really useful in historical fiction, allowing authors to  provide additional background, and to be able to "include all that stuff their editors made them leave out!"

According to Mr. Fayman,  readers shouldn't expect to see this type of technology used for every book we read.  While he's sure that  there will be more titles like this, he also realizes that "it’s still kind of an experiment for publishers now," something that " most publishers know they need to be looking into."  Things will really "take off," he notes, "When an interactive edition of a book outsells the standard edition."

As I noted earlier, I'm much more of a book-with-dustjacket kind of person, and I'm probably joining the ranks of a dying breed because I tend to only use my iPad or Kindle when I travel.  For all of you e-reader diehards though, this novel-as-app concept might just be something you may want to look into. If I'd had this app when I read Border Field Blues last year,  the first thing I would have clicked on would have been the music. There is nothing like great blues (and, okay, jazz too) while reading a crime novel.

You can find out more at the website for Border Field Blues.

Friday, June 6, 2014

pop this one into your beach bag this summer: Mr. Mercedes, by Stephen King

Scribner, 2014
437 pp


Let me just say this and get it out of the way: there is nothing in the supernatural realm occurring in this story,  but there is a monster here. He is neither a vampire, nor a ghost;  he is not the dark forces of evil dressed up in a clown costume. He's just a person. And he got away with a horrendous crime.

Detective William (Bill) Hodges has recently retired, and sits watching mindless television day after day, often with a gun in his lap and thoughts of suicide not too far off.   When he left the force, he left behind a few unsolved cases he'd been working on, but the one that haunts him most is that of the Mercedes Killer, so named because he drove a big Mercedes into a gigantic crowd of people waiting in line behind ropes for the opening of a job fair (promising 1,000 jobs)  on a foggy morning, killing several including a baby.   But Bill's ennui is about to be lifted -- he receives a letter from someone who says he's responsible, telling Bill that since he is such a big failure, he should just kill himself.  The letter writer, who just  a few pages later we're told is Brady Hartsfield (aka the "Mr. Mercedes" of the title),  tells Bill that he can communicate with him via a very private chat/social site called Under Debbie's Blue Umbrella, where the "perk," as he calls himself, has already set up Hodges with a user name.  Bill knows that he should probably turn the letter in to his old partner Pete, but he's intrigued -- and he wants to nail this guy.  Rather than inspiring Bill to eat his gun, the letter gets his blood flowing again, and he decides to take this bad guy on -- but on Bill's  terms.

The usual King touches that are the hallmark of his books are here as well. King's forte is evil people who blend in to the community, and he does this very well.  On the outside, Hartsfield seems pretty average, working two jobs, well liked by his customers at both. On the inside, though, he's a really sick guy, with a bizarre relationship with his mom, recurring killer headaches, and lives in his own little basement world where he is into books, movies, and games that glorify violence. When things don't go his way, watch out. King writes him so well that I was happy to get out of the Hartsfield scenes, especially at his home, but he just gets worse the farther along the story goes. Also, while in pretty  much every Stephen King novel you can expect  the ultimate showdown between good and evil, as he's taking you to that moment,  he doesn't lead the story down paths one might expect.  Under Debbie's Blue Umbrella, for example, doesn't turn out to be the typical device for offering clues via chats between the killer and the cop, and two deaths move things in very different ways than originally planned.   The way the author throws in a few game changers along the way keeps things just a little bit off balance, so that you have to sort of re-evaluate what you think is going to happen next.  

But aside from those Stephen King touches (and many others)  throughout the book, Mr. Mercedes has been done before. Here the reader finds very familiar territory:  there's the retired cop frustrated by the big case in his career that remains unsolved, the damaged bad guy working two menial jobs and  in a sick sort of love/hate relationship with his alcoholic  mother,  the Harvard-bound brainy and tech-savvy young sidekick helping the computer-ignorant cop, and of course, a romantic love interest.   There's no mystery here, really, since the "who" is given away very early on -- it's much more of a thriller where the race is on to stop the bad guy  before he can implement his next terrible plan, one that will make the Mercedes massacre look tame. 

 Mr. Mercedes is a good enough read for a lazy couple of  days in that  laying-on-the-beach kind of book-that-you-can-read quickly sort of way.  It's definitely a crime thriller with no supernatural elements involved, the perfect escape novel when you want something sort of mindless to read while you're relaxing in the summer sun. I'm afraid I didn't enjoy it as much as others seem to have, but  that's okay. I'm sure that even without my vote it will become a huge bestseller.