The master of the macabre, Stephen King, takes another respite from the horror genre and delves back into the world of retired Detective William Hodges who was first introduced in last summer’s hit Mr. Mercedes. Touted as the literary giant’s first foray into “hard boiled” detective stories, Finders Keepers is the second novel of a planned trilogy.
When we last left Bill Hodges, he was recovering from a heart attack in the aftermath of his companions Jerome & Holly’s heroics, saving a stadium full of teenage concert goers from “Mr. Mercedes” Brady Hartsfield. Hartsfield earned the media generated moniker for his use of a stolen Mercedes-Benz to mow down a crowd of job hopefuls waiting in line at the City Center Job Fair during the 2008 recession. After an extended game of cat and mouse, Hodges has finally cornered Hartsfield in the arena when Bill goes down with a heart attack. Before Brady can complete his plan to blow up his suicide bomb and take as many people that he can with him, he is bludgeoned into a coma by Holly. Hartsfield has awoken from the coma but still spends his days and nights in a near catatonic state in Lakes Region Traumatic Brain Injury Clinic at John M. Kiner Hospital.
Finders Keepers begins its story in 1978, where renowned author John Rothstein has retired to the farm land of New Hampshire. Rothstein is considered one of the finest American novelists and his trilogy of Jimmy Gold novels, “The Runner”, “The Runner Sees Action” & “The Runner Slows Down” are award-winning and adored. Having published nothing in years, he lives a reclusive life out of the public spotlight. His life is turned upside down when he becomes the victim of a home invasion. Rothstein is rumored to keep a large amount of cash in his home and three young thugs in colored ski masks have come to cash in. Red & Blue are elated to find in excess of twenty thousand dollars in Rothstein’s safe but Yellow is much more concerned with the real treasure kept in the safe. Along with the cash, the other rumor around town is that John Rothstein continued the Jimmy Gold saga, even if never released.While The Runner Slows Down was critically acclaimed, Yellow is very upset with what he believes is the final fate of Jimmy Gold, becoming a suburban sell out with a wife, kids and a cheesy advertizing job. John knows he is in trouble when Yellow reveals his face and introduces himself as Morrie, a disturbed fanatic that feels betrayed by the final Runner narrative. With the hidden literature in hand Morrie takes his revenge on the old scribe with a bullet. Morrie’s plan to keep, release or sell the secret works goes horribly wrong and he finds himself sentenced to life in prison for committing a brutal rape while in a drunken blackout. Throughout the years he dreams of his treasure, which he hid in what he feels is a safe place.
Fast forward more than three decades and we find young Peter Saubers and his family living in the same house that Morrie occupied at the time of his arrest. Times are extremely tough following that same recession of 2008 and his parents have been forced to move to the seedier side of town, not only because of unemployment but because his father was critically injured during the infamous City Center tragedy, the central event in Mr. Mercedes. With crushing medical bills and mounting marital stress, Peter’s parents argue constantly. Peter tries to keep his younger sister Tina as happy as possible within this toxic environment. A walk in the woods to escape the fighting delivers much more than fresh air for Peter. He discovers not only hidden money to keep his family afloat but a much larger find that steers him on his own love affair of Jimmy Gold and the works of John Rothstein. Life is good for now but for how long will what Peter has found be considered finders, keepers?
Mr. King has crafted a tightly written story that is a perfect companion piece to Mr. Mercedes if not a strict sequel. The familiar characters of Bill Hodges, Holly & Jerome return but are much more secondary characters as opposed to leads. It works beautifully. The contrast between Morrie and Peter is striking in their similarities and rewarding in their differences. Peter could have easily slipped into the obsessive hell that plagued Morrie but finds strength in his family that Morrie never had. Stephen King has always been a master at invoking his earlier works while creating his current work and there is no fall off here as the reader can easily identify with Misery to find the mind of a psychotic fan and the subtle similarities to prison life in The Shawshank Redemption. And of course we receive the slightest hint that the final installment could be a meld of a crime yarn coupled with the metaphysical.
Finders Keepers left me pondering the way we the public view celebrities. The art that novelists, actors and musicians perform is not only for them but for us. There is a fine line between being a fan and obsession. Obsession kept Roland reaching for the Tower, it made Trash Can Man destroy what he loved. Stephen King is arguably one of the finest novelists to ever put pen to paper but he knows a thing or two about obsession. And I for one am glad to be a constant reader of his interpretation of it.
5 of 5 Moleskins
Reviewer: Paul A. DiNello