“You don’t really need our recommendation…” – End of Watch by Stephen King

eowskWe all knew it was coming. The End. These books – Mr Mercedes, Finders Keepers and now End of Watch – have always been advertised as a trilogy and King is canny enough to have planted seeds in the first book that find subtle resolution in the climax. That’s one of the basics of any trilogy. But more than that, King laid the groundwork in Finders Keepers to let us know that the final outing was going to be a lot more typical, a lot more Stephen King-y, than the first two books. That’s not meant in any pejorative way, either, because after all, there’s a reason we all keep reading Stephen King. If you approach End of Watch, though, hoping for a supernatural element, you will be immensely pleased.

Brady Hartsfield is the villain here, just as he was back in Mr Mercedes. You’ll remember he was rendered somewhat vegetative at the end of the first book, and remained vegetative throughout most of Finders Keepers (although he did seem to develop a slightly worrying ability to, you know, knock things over with his mind) and he’s still not in the best of shape as the book opens but he has acquired certain abilities. Yes, he can move things with his mind but King is quick to dismiss this in favour of a newer, bigger trick: Hartsfield has also discovered he can hop into the minds of certain people and control them for a bit. Did this happen because he had his head mashed in or because his doctor (an altogether unpleasant chap called Barbineau) has been experimenting on him with a new as untested drug? Hartsfield mostly inhabits two people, the aforementioned Barbineau and Library Al, and he uses both of them to devise a fiendish new plan the aim of which is to finish the business left hanging at the end of Mr Mercedes

Meanwhile Bill Hodges, our erstwhile hero, has discovered he has pancreatic cancer and he is not in a good place and that serves as counterpoint one – the Bill Hodges we first met back in Mr Mercedes was toying with suicide, and here he very much wants to hang on to what life has has. What’s more, the seeds of suicide from that first book, the steps Hartsfield took to torment Hodges and others blossom here, with Hartsfield – variously called a prince and an architect of suicide – looking to hatch a plan involving redundant games consoles to push would-be suicides over the edge (in a plot device that recalled to this reader the twists of the unfairly reviled Halloween III: Season of the Witch, in which a toy manufacturer attempted to harvest mass murder thanks to some terrible masks). All of which has the makings of a pretty standard Stephen King novel you might admit but there is something – some teensy recalibration required – to accept the ease with which Bill Hodges and his sidekick Holly gingerly step into the supernatural world. Of course there has to be a touch of Occam’s Razor with circumstances as they unfold – and it is a Stephen King novel so… you know – but because this is the third act in which the first two acts were largely King trying his hand at police procedurals, the grounding implausibility (that a man with his head stove in could, you know, develop the ability to hop from body to body) becomes somewhat knotty (and you can’t help but feel King knew it as he was writing, drafting in an off the map holiday hideaway and a newsworthy blizzard to allow the climax to be climactic – and to prevent Hartsfield from just, you know, hopping from body to body into the world ad infinitum). All of which adds up to a minor wobble as you head into the closing quarter of the book (as you get a sense of too many people explaining how we reached this point, and little sense of anyone offering an alternate perspective – “he jumps from body to body? got it!”). The issue is best summed up by a line in issue 3 of the current ongoing Alan Moore comic, “Providence”:

“I frankly don’t see how anyone could credibly include such a fantastical conception in a story without utterly unbalancing whatever semblance of reality the idea might conceivably exist in…”

But King, as we know, is a writer with tremendous heart and it is heart, at last, that saves End of Watch. We are left with quite a tender close to the trilogy, all things considered, and all strands are neatly tied in a satisfying and satisfactory way.

Any Cop?: So it’s goodbye Brady Hartsfield, and it’s goodbye Bill Hodges and a farewell to the police procedural series that found time to dally in more typical Stephen King waters before it closed out. We’re guessing you don’t really need our recommendation if you’ve followed the series to this point, right?


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