There are suggestions throughout this second installment of a planned trilogy that King’s motley, appealing trio of detectives from Mr. Mercedes (2014) have some bad juju in their collective future that may make the case here look like a relative afternoon at the mall.
As in Misery and The Shining, King swan dives into the looniness lurking at both ends of the writer-reader transaction. The loony in this particular joint is a pale, red-lipped sociopath named Morris Bellamy, who, in 1978, robs and murders his favorite novelist, John Rothstein, because he can't forgive him for making his lead character, Jimmy Gold, go into advertising in the last published installment of his epic trilogy. Yet along with the cash Bellamy collects during his crime are several notebooks comprising a rough draft for a fourth installment suggesting an outcome for Gold that Bellamy finds potentially more satisfying. Bellamy buries a trunk with the money and notebooks for safekeeping, but a 35-year prison hitch interrupts his plans. By the time Bellamy is paroled in 2014, Pete Saubers, a high school student who’s something of a Rothstein aficionado himself, has excavated the trunk, sent the money in anonymously labeled parcels to his financially strapped parents, and stashed the notebooks for a possible sale on the proverbial rainy day—whose somewhat premature arrival comes, alas, at roughly the same time Bellamy appears in the Sauberses' life. Fortunately, Pete’s back is covered by the odd-squad private detective team of portly, kindly ex-cop Bill Hodges, wisecracking digital whiz Jerome Robinson, and Hodges' phobic-savant researcher Holly Gibney, who first pooled their talents in Mr. Mercedes—a book whose central crime, the murder and maiming of innocents by a luxury car, looms over this sequel like a stubborn shadow. This being a King novel, the narrative hums and roars along like a high-performance vehicle, even though there are times when its readers may find themselves several tics ahead of the book’s plot developments. But such qualms are overcome by the plainspoken, deceptively simple King style, which has once again fashioned a rip-snorting entertainment; one that also works as a sneaky-smart satire of literary criticism and how even the most attentive readers can often miss the whole point behind making up characters and situations.
Reading a King novel as engrossing as this is a little like backing in a car with parking assist: after a while, you just take your hands off the wheel and the pages practically turn themselves.