End of Watch, by Stephen King / ****

endofwatch-stephenkingNOTE: It’s hard to get into my feelings about End of Watch without describing the basic premise of the book, which, in turn, is going to spoil some details from the first two books in the Bill Hodges/Mr. Mercedes trilogy. So, if you haven’t read those, just know that I liked End of Watch quite a bit, but I think it’s not as good as either of the first two books in the series. If you have read the first two books, feel free to read on. I won’t spoil anything from End of Watch beyond the basic premise.

Mr. Mercedes, the first novel in Stephen King’s trilogy of books about retired policeman Bill Hodges, represented something wholly new in King’s career. It was basically a crime novel, one in which a retired cop does his best to track down a serial killer. And while the details of the book were unique, and the style unmistakably King’s, it felt like the master trying something new: telling a suspense story without any supernatural elements. It’s something he’s done now and then – most notably in Misery, which was originally going to be a Bachman book – but not often, and it was a joy to find him doing it so well.

Then came Finders Keepers, which felt even less traditional – a crime novel about a long-lost book, authorial intentions, and so much more. Finders Keepers was a blast – a complex crime story that kept you guessing and whose stakes were hard to put into simple words – and easily outdid Mr. Mercedes. And yet, there was one odd plot thread: the ongoing fate of Brady Hartsfield. Left alive but comatose at the end of Mr. Mercedes, Hartsfield spends his short appearances in Finders Keepers in a nursing home, by all accounts unaware of the world around him…except for the hints that he may be able to use his mind to move objects around him. It was an odd note in a series that had so tightly eschewed supernatural elements, and one that I found a bit sad – as though King was already backtracking on his choice to do something more grounded.

Now comes End of Watch, which follows that thread to its natural progression: Brady Hartsfield may be less than fully healed, but people around him keep killing themselves. And Bill Hodges is worried about it, no matter what Brady’s doctors say, because he’s got his own concerns about Brady, and the rumors of what he’s able to do with his mind.

Without getting into specifics, End of Watch embraces that uncertainty about Brady, but it’s clear before long that this is a marriage of the grounded crime work of the other two Hodges books and the supernatural elements that have driven so many of his books. And while it’s somewhat different from the books before it, it ends up feeling of a piece with the others – despite Brady’s powers, this is a detective book, even if it’s one in which the killer may be something more powerful than a traditional human. (It does make the book’s dedication to Thomas Harris a bit odd, though; if there’s a book in the series that should be dedicated to Harris, it’s the original Mr. Mercedes.)

Here’s the thing: I really liked End of Watch, on the whole. Hartsfield makes for a fascinating villain, and King’s slow unveiling of his recuperation and development since the end of Mr. Mercedes makes for compelling reading, and unsettling material. More than that, Brady’s obsession with suicide, and his apparent ability to drive people into it, makes for deeply disturbing scenes, ones where King is able to tap into real psychological horrors at the core of all of us. And while his master plan is silly in parts (especially in its theatricality, a fact the book is smart enough to own up to), King is more than able to deliver in specific moments that make you realize what a horrific creation Brady is.

And yet, not all of the book works. It’s the final book in the Hodges series, and parts feel a bit too final, as if King is forcing things along in a way that doesn’t quite feel organic. (This mainly comes in the form of some health issues for Hodges that are introduced at the beginning of the novel and couldn’t be less subtle; it’s like when a Victorian woman is introduced in a film and keeps coughing into her handkerchief.) The pacing, too, feels odd at times, most notably in Brady’s final plan, which seems ambitious, unsettling, and strangely rushed for a character who plans out everything.

Nonetheless, there’s so much of End of Watch that works that it’s hard to complain too much. King, as always, knows how to write characters and make them come to life, even in a short amount of time, and that’s a skill that pays off often in this book, as we get into characters’ heads just in time to watch them unravel horribly. And, as always, his ability to crank up the pace of a book is hard to ignore; by the time this hits the climax, it’s going to be hard to stop, no matter how much you want to. Yes, parts of it don’t all work, and parts feel a bit less well structured and thought out than the other books in the series. And yet, I’d be lying if I didn’t say I enjoyed the book on the whole. I just can’t help but wonder what would have happened if King had stuck with his more “grounded” world all the way through to the end.

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8 thoughts on “End of Watch, by Stephen King / ****

  1. I got this about two weeks ago, but have not had the time to start it yet. I loved the first 2 books, and have seen reviews both saying it was the best in the trilogy, as well as that it was the least liked of the three.

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    1. Me personally? I thought book 2 was the best, and this was the weakest. Just my take, though. I still really enjoyed this one; I just feel like the plotting is a little weaker at points, and parts of the ending are forced. It’s still solid, though.

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  2. Hi Clyde!

    Well done on your great reviews!
    Since I see you’re a fan of the horror genre, I thought I’d let you know about my horror/mystery/coming-of-age novel “The Witch’s List” which has recently been released on amazon and other sites / bookstores. It has notably been recommended by Tahir Shah – THE CALIPH’S HOUSE.

    https://www.amazon.com/Witchs-List-Andrew-Cairns/dp/1785353489

    Sandy Beech doesn’t believe in witches and the supernatural. However, certain strange events occur which put his scepticism to the test: a burning book, a falling crucifix, a mysterious illness, and a fire in a convent which kills all twelve nuns. On her death bead, Bernadette, the last surviving nun, warns him to control his lusts and avoid African women. Sandy finds this difficult, since he is attracted to exotic, dark-skinned women and after his hedonistic university exchange year in Paris, marries Rocky from the Ivory Coast. Five years later, childless and with the marriage souring, they decide to visit Rocky’s home country. Sandy is drawn into a world of strange beliefs and practices: he finds out about the Witch’s List – a list of people destined to die, and is attacked by various animals starting with a ferocious dog in Abidjan. He delves further and further into the realm of African witchcraft, but the horrific truth remains obscure… The Witch’s List is the first of a trilogy.

    Andrew Cairns has written, quite literally, a bewitching novel, one that speaks to an underbelly which lies dormant in us all. The Witch’s List bridges our world of convention, with that of a fabulous Twilight Zone, what may be true reality — a realm of magic and ultimate possibility. I recommend this book because, behind the smokescreen of simplicity, there lies a masked bedrock of extraordinary power. –Tahir Shah, author of The Caliph’s House

    If you are interested in reviewing it, please let me know and I can sent you a review copy by email. Alternatively it can be downloaded in kindle / epub format on netgalley.com

    Best regards,
    Andrew Cairns
    ajcairns@hotmail.com
    http://thewitchslist.blogspot.com
    https://www.facebook.com/thewitchslist

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