To me, Mr. Mercedes feels like the mark of a new era in King’s books. That sounds grander than I actually mean it to, but I don’t know how else to put it. It differs from what came before, though, in some ways that seem important.
Mr. Mercedes (taken alone — this is important) isn’t supernatural. There’s a bit at the tail end that looks like it could potentially be a “medical miracle”, but that’s all it looks like. It’s also more of a teaser than anything else. It doesn’t really tell you anything. And yes, King has previously written books and stories with no supernatural or fantastic elements. Even crime stories — Joyland has a ghost, but there’s no apparent supernatural element to Colorado Kid, for example. Or most of his Bachman stuff… except for Thinner and The Regulators, there is no magic or supernatural parts. All I can say is that this feels different from any of those. It’s not a Bachman book, or in Bachman’s generally much more cynical style. And while both Mr. Mercedes and Colorado Kid are crime novels, Colorado Kid is much more in the pulp novel style. Mr. Mercedes (again, if you take it as a standalone) feels much closer to something you’d get from a John Grisham or James Patterson. Not that either of those authors would write this, but it feels like it’s in that more modern popular crime/detective novel vein.
It’s the start of a trilogy. For the most part, King doesn’t do series that require you to read in a certain order. Certain characters and places may reoccur, and your experience may be different if you read those works in order, but there’s no need to in order to enjoy the story and no real expectation put on the reader to consume them in a particular way. Yes, Doctor Sleep is an actual sequel to The Shining, but for one thing, it came decades after the original. It can stand on its own if you don’t want to read The Shining. And The Shining, since a follow-up wasn’t intended in the first place, can also be read by itself and feel finished if you don’t want to read the sequel. I know, I know, The Dark Tower, but The Dark Tower isn’t mainstream King either, and I would argue that Mr. Mercedes is. I would say that in my experience of this trilogy (which is 2/3 from memory at this point, so I may change my mind) could if the reader wanted, be read as standalone or out of order. I think King gives you everything you need to enjoy the main stories no matter how you come to them. However, they were put together and marketed as a trilogy and the obvious expectation is that the reader will approach them that way. That’s new.
This is more future knowledge, but characters from Mr. Mercedes are also going to appear in future work that exists as of this writing and perhaps future work that doesn’t yet exist right as I type this. That’s not unheard of, of course, and it’s possible these characters only feel different to me as opposed to other recurring characters because they’re newer and more modern. But they feel different anyway.
Speaking of future knowledge, while Mr. Mercedes isn’t supernatural or sci-fi or fantastic, the larger story that it’s part of is. This means these characters that will show up throughout this trilogy and in other stories will go from a non-fantastical world to one that is… more fantastical. I don’t know that he’s done that before, at least not between stories. (A character who believes he’s in a non-fantastical world in the beginning and finds out by the end that this is not the case is different from finding it out in a whole new book or story, in my opinion. Also, usually, we know that the world is not what it seems even if the character doesn’t. In Mr. Mercedes, we don’t know that this is not an ordinary world.)
None of these are complaints, by the way. I want to point that out. I like Mr. Mercedes. I like the other (also fairly odd in terms of its creation) trilogy that’s upcoming. I like the characters that are new at this point and will recur later. I have no issue with these changes. I just feel like they’re distinctive changes. The time-setting of books like Dead Zone and Under the Dome is very different, but the writer and writing behind them seem the same or the same except for expected changes due to time. The writer and writing behind Mr. Mercedes seem different. Not that it no longer seems like King, but it seems like a King who has found a new direction and is striving toward it. I don’t know if I can articulate it any more clearly than that.
I’ve made this post almost as long as it should be talking about the existence of the book and its related stories and haven’t touched on actually reading the book. I like the book. The actual Mercedes crash is horrific, maybe more so than anything supernatural could be. Brady Hartsfield, too. It’s not perfect — his background, his mother, his little brother, that whole history is all a little gothic. But Brady himself? I feel like the word “incel” was just beginning to make mainstream rounds when this was published in 2014, and I’m not sure that King would have heard of it while he was writing this, but that’s what this is. Or this is one version of what an incel is, anyway. I’m not too surprised that King hit on it — Harold Lauder from The Stand was sort of a proto-incel, long before we were talking about that.
Holly Gibney first shows up here. She’s something of a controversial figure in fan circles — some really like her and some hate her. I fall in the first camp, maybe because King likes her so much, and it shows. But she’s very different here than who she’ll be soon.
I said Mr. Mercedes, and the other parts of the trilogy can be read as standalones if the reader wants — you can still enjoy the stories that way — but I think greater meaning and understanding come from reading all three. And this post is long enough. If I need to come back to elements of this book to talk about the next ones, I’ll revisit then. For the moment, my impression of the divergence with previous work this series represents to me seemed like a point worth making.