A retired detective contemplating suicide finds new life when a craft mass murderer who eluded police reaches out to gloat. K. William Hodges is a retired detective who is attempting to find a reason to live without the thrill of his old job when he is forced to close a case that during his career, he and his partner were unable to solve. One day while suffering the soporific effects of afternoon daytime television and an increasingly unhealthy diet, Hodges' now sedentary life gets a brutal wake up call when a letter falls through his mail slot. A criminal known only as the Mercedes Killer, who manages to escape arrest after brutally killing eight people and injuring fifteen when he ran them over in a stolen Mercedes, reaches out to the "Det-Ret", in a gloating, scathing, and manipulative letter ultimately intended to force the retiree to suicide. Naturally, his letter has the opposite of its desired effect.
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Hodges embarks on a long arduous journey reviewing the details of the old case as well as combing through the letter hoping to find any clues that may lead to the capture of this unrepentant murderer. He begins by enlisting the help of his seventeen year-old neighbor and friend Jerome, who doubles as lawn mower and tech savvy computer genius to unravel the increasingly tangled web of the killer's mind. Hodges also returns to the people he previously interviewed while on the force, including the sister of the late owner of the stolen Mercedes, whose gumption and spunk ensnare his mind and ultimately his heart. The sister Janey, Jerome, and Hodges form a sort of motley crew of investagtors intent upon capturing the Mercedes Killer.
As the reader follows Hodges' journey down the path to justice, we, learn more and more about who the killer is and his mindset and motivation for his actions. He, a master at hiding in plain sight moves seamlessly in and out of the detective's life, all the while planning and scheming new ways to bring death and destruction on the heads of the people around him that he so despises. He lives at home with his alcoholic mother and the memory of his dead younger brother and allows his insanity and demented ideas to slowly drive him closer and closer to his own demise. He plans to kill Jerome's dog with poisoned meat in the hopes that it may throw the entire investigation off its course, but his plan backfires when his drunken mother eats the meat herself and dies. The Mercedes Killer, then embarks on a vendetta to personally dispose of the retired detective with a car bomb that, yet again, never reaches its intended victim, but rather kills Janey, Hodges new paramour. When the killer realizes his error, he decides to make one last grand stand by staging a suicide bombing at a concert at the same arena where he'd committed his first infamous massacre.
After the death of his new love, Hodges' need to capture the Mercedes Killer grows even stronger and he, Jerome, and Janey's niece Holly begin an increasingly dangerous quest to find and stop the killer before he hurts anyone else. After using the computer files of the late Mercedes owner and the power of the Internet, Hodges realizes that the killer is an employee of a local computer repair company. He finds the names and pictures of the computer repairmen and goes on a hunt to apprehend the suspect before he can harm anyone else. Jerome, poring over the photographs of the three repairmen finally recognizes one, the true Mercedes killer as the driver of the local neighborhood ice cream truck, a person with whom he and his family had conversed several times. The group goes to find the perpetrator at home, only to discover the killer deceased mother, rotting away in her bed. Thanks to Holly's odd brand of genius, Hodges and Jerome are able to scour the killer's computer and discover his next plot to murder hundreds of people at a pop concert mere minutes away.
After a stressful race to the arena, a harrowing apprehension of the criminal just in time to prevent disaster, and a heart attack suffered by William Hodges, the day and several lives are saved by the perseverance and sheer obstinance of the retired detective and his friends, and the criminal, whose only wish was to die in a blaze of glory, instead is left to rot in a hospital bed, deprived of fame and the death he so dilligently sought and wrought.
Best part of story, including ending:
Stephen King demonstrates his gift for the profane as well as depicting the human experience with his clever and pervasive writing as well as his unflinching willingness to stare at the ugliest part of humanity.
Best scene in story:
When Holly, the niece of the very recently deceased Janey enters the arena with Jerome on behalf of Hodges, who at the time is having a heart attack, ingeniously locates the Mercedes Killer in a crowd of more than four thousand people. She, Jerome, and Hodges have already established that the killer will be disguised as someone innocent and harmless, and she heads straight for the handicapped section of the crowd. Upon discerning who of the crippled concertgoers was the murderer, she dispatches an effective blow to the side of his head with a sock filled with ball-bearing, effectively putting him and his diabolical plot out of commission.
Opinion about the main character:
The most endearing quality that William Hodges possesses is his embarrassment regarding his first name, which happens to be Kermit. This little fact, while ultimately irrelevant in the grand scheme of the book, lends an air of realness and relatability to the character making him very likeable and engaging.