Calling this a sequel to ‘Mr. Mercedes’ is a bit of a mislabel. It’s easier from a marketing standpoint, but it is really more of a spin-off. Even more perplexing is the addendum that this is the second entry in the “Bill Hodges Trilogy”, largely because, well, it isn’t his story.
The book does take place after the aforementioned novel, and its events do influence how things play out here, but it really is more of a stand alone novel that just happens to have Hodges and the others in it. Really, they’re supporting characters now. They don’t appear at all in the first third and don’t really get a whole lot to do when they do make it on the scene.
Instead, the focus is on Phil Saubers, a young boy who comes across a trunk filled with a large stash of cash and some unpublished manuscripts from a writer who was killed. Said cash comes in handy as Phil’s family is in dire financial straits due to the weak economy and the injuries his father sustained in Brady’s attack seen in the opening pages of ‘Mr. Mercedes’.
Shortly after the first book came out, King made a comment that he wanted to look at the lives of others who were present for the attack. Truth be told, it sounded a bit flimsy. There was talk of doing something similar with ‘Cloverfield’, showing the monster attack from the vantage point of another group of characters, and there didn’t seem to be much point. It actually works rather well here, though, and does give the book a more concrete connection to its predecessor.
A lot of people also call this a spiritual successor to ‘Misery’. It’s easy to see how, as it was a devout fan who was responsible not only for the theft of the manuscripts, but the death of the writer. Said fan comes back with a vengeance and he’s not too pleased to see that someone else has taken his loot. As such, it reads more like a nod to Scott Smith’s ‘A Simple Plan’. One could split the difference and call it a lovechild of the two works.
That being said, Morris is no Annie Wilkes. Where she thrived on unnerving psychosis, he’s more of your traditional hardened criminal. He’s dangerous, sure, but not nearly as chilling. That being said, I found him to be a better antagonist than Brady. He’s menacing in his own right, more understated, and even his bigotry feels more like what a person would do or think compared to Brady’s over the top judgments.
Oddly enough, it looks like Brady’s going to be returning to close out the saga. One could see it as a step back, but it makes sense as a way to bookend things and wrap it up. He apparently has powers now, so that should be interesting. It’s an odd choice given this world’s generally been pretty grounded, but how that plays out is yet to be determined.
Phil makes for a solid protagonist. You do grow to like him and you can see why he makes the decisions that he does. The book half-heartedly tries to compare him to Morris for some reason. It would have been an interesting angle had it been developed, but as it is, it falls flat.
Overall, though, this was a solid read. It’s actually a stronger work compared to its predecessor. It is well paced, has solid characterization, and presents an interesting dilemma. Also, the book deserves credit for doing a good job justifying the admittedly goofy sounding title.