Although it comes trumpeting the fact it’s a sequel of sorts to Mr Mercedes, it takes Finders Keepers a good 100 or so pages to bring back Bill Hodges, the retired police who fronted the previous book. As with Mr Mercedes, Finders Keepers is a ‘straight’ King novel, in that there is not much in the way of the supernatural on display here (although we do get a glimpse that perhaps the third book in this proposed trilogy might be more typical King). The crime at the centre of Mr Mercedes (Brady Hartsfield ploughs into a crowd of jobseekers) is also present and correct here too (in that the father of one of the central characters is in the crowd and is hurt), but this is not a book about that crime.
Finders Keepers kicks off a full 30 years before Mr Mercedes. A reclusive writer (we know King likes writing about writers) called John Rothstein is visited at his home by three gentlemen, two of whom are intent on taking whatever money they can find; the third robber, a hot-headed guy called Morris Bellamy who is the living proof of the old ‘if you had half a brain you’d be dangerous’ dictum, is keen to punish Rothstein for more esoteric reasons: Rothstein wrote a trilogy of books featuring a character called Jimmy Gold and Morrie hates the third book with a passion, thinks Rothstein sold out and sold Jimmy Gold out too. We quickly see that Rothstein is a kind of amalgam of Updike (in place of Updike’s Rabbit books, we get Rothstein’s Runner books) and JD Salinger (Rothstein is reclusive, has been writing busily year after year, in notebooks that he requested be burned upon his death). And Morrie finds himself with a lot of notebooks, some of which feature two more Jimmy Gold books… Flash forward those 30 years and we meet Pete Sauber (pronounced Sow-ber) and his family: dad hurt by Mr Mercedes and unable to work, mum struggling to make ends meet, younger sister looking to her brother to make sense of things. Pete finds a trunk full of money and notebooks and thinks it’s the answer to his prayers. And perhaps it is for a little while. But eventually we know that Bellamy and Sauber will collide…
But we know this is a sequel to Mr Mercedes and so eventually we cross paths with Hodges again who is these days running a sort of detective agency called – you’ve guessed it – Finders Keepers, and King has read enough Elmore Leonard to know that Hodges needs other cases and so we are treated to a couple of examples of what Hodges gets up to in his more run of the mill days (tracking down suave con men and making court appearances), as well as looping in with characters we were first introduced to in the previous book. Hodges’ agency is managed by Holly and draws on the expertise of Jerome when needed – and when the action of the novel starts to ramp up, it is these three who career about (for the most part following proceedings and trying to hold on to the coattails) like a slightly mismatched Mystery Inc. Although there are things we don’t necessarily buy (when Hodges first gets a version of the story, he’s agog, hasn’t heard anything like it before – but he only gets a small glimpse of the whole story and the glimpse he gets – well, we’re not sure that it warrants him getting agog), moments that are a bit loose (like Raiders of the Lost Ark, there is a lot in Finders Keepers that happens without Hodges doing anything – he is more bystander than participant) and parts of the book that echo Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch (a novel that is apparently the most unread book of the last few years which commentators cluck about as if it’s Tartt’s fault people are stupid), Finders Keepers is still, resoundingly, the kind of book that grips you by the lapels and will have you reading and reading and neglecting pretty much everything else. This is one of King’s great skills.
Brady Hartsfield remains a presence throughout the book too (despite the fact he is – apparently – semi-vegetative), as does his magnetic hold over Hodges, and it will be interesting to see if the third book (currently we’re told it’s a trilogy but maybe Hodges could run and run) bookends the first and offers us another face-off between the two, or if there will be a third distinct outing in which the events of the first book circle around. It’s also interesting to see King continuing to step outside of his comfort zone, continue to do things that he hasn’t done before, continue to see where he can take his readers without repeating himself. The haters will always hate but for us Constant Readers, there are pleasures to be found with each new title.
Any Cop?: We’d rate it slightly higher than Mr Mercedes and we’re keen to see what the third outing will bring.