(End of Watch)
In End of Watch, we return to the villain from the first part of the trilogy, Brady Hartsfield. Kind of, anyway. It’s definitely him, but in this installment of the series, he’s not just a murderous dick; he’s… psychic? Able to astral project? He has some kind of mental magic powers, anyway, combined with the computer abilities he had as early as book one. He uses this to 1.) body hop into a couple of different people and 2.) create a kind of suicide code in a tablet game demo aimed at random teenagers, mostly teenage girls.
I feel like there’s some kind of pathology that we’re supposed to pick up on in the fact that Brady — an adult man who appears to have little interest in women of any age who aren’t his mother — chooses to focus mainly on getting teenage girls to kill themselves. Going after randoms at a job fair like he did with the Mercedes — OK, gross, but fine, he’s a thrill killer. Going after retired Detective Hodges — OK, well, lots of serial killers and other types of criminals have been known to taunt the police; it’s another thrill thing, makes sense. Switching to teenage girls in general feels like a switch. Going after Jerome’s sister kind of fits with everything else because dude is a racist and has been fixated on Jerome since he started going after Hodges, too, so OK for that one, too — but just any teenage girls? I guess he was planning on blowing up the audience of a boy band concert — so mostly teenage girls — at the end of the first book. But when reading that one, I had the impression he picked the concert venue because it was likely to be so crowded, not specifically because it would be crowded with teen girls. Maybe I just didn’t pick up on that, but even if that was the main reason, it doesn’t seem to fit with mowing down job seekers, torturing a grown woman into suicide, and prodding Hodges with a stick. Although he is shown to like suicide from the start and teens are definitely a high-risk demographic. I don’t know; it feels weird and like there’s more to unpack there. Or maybe it feels like there isn’t more to unpack there, but there should be.
End of Watch isn’t the strongest story of the bunch. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy reading it — I absolutely did. Stephen King is so good at drawing characters and creating these ka-tets — in this case, Hodges, Holly, and Jerome, that you just can’t help but want to spend time with them. It doesn’t matter what they’re doing. And I think if you forget the stories almost entirely and look at this whole trilogy through the lens of the growth of and connections between Hodges, Holly, and Jerome, you have a super interesting and engaging thing happening — again, even without the stories. That’s saying something.
And it’s not that End of Watch is a bad story; it’s just weaker than the others. Why can Brady astral project now? Eh… some kind of meds in combination with the head injury. Maybe. Doesn’t matter. Was he always this much of a computer genius? Actually, yes, probably — that is in there from the first — but his abilities in this one seem a little unbelievable anyway. I’m not a computer genius, so maybe I’m wrong. But it seems like the computer wizardry here is at least partly actual magic. Why teenage girls? Eh, whatever. In this world that’s been rational up until now and suddenly contains weird mind powers; how did our heroes figure out what they were looking for, who was doing it, and what they were supposed to do? Wouldn’t this x-factor that should have been impossibly stymie them? After all, it wasn’t a supernatural series until now! Eh, they’re just that awesome. I mean, they are awesome, but we’re still pushing credulity a lot here.
Thing is, you don’t think of any of this while you’re reading it. I didn’t, anyway. The only thing that pulled me out of the whole book long enough to make a note was the description of one of these poor suicidal teenage girls “snarfing her way through a bag of chocolate pinwheel cookies, the kind with lots of gooey marshmallow inside” while crying. Which, gross, Steve. Just say you hate fat people and go. Otherwise, though, you’re kind of just along for the ride, and it’s a good ride. Hodges, Holly, and Jerome really are awesome heroes, Brady really is quite perfectly designed to hate, Hodges’s former partner and his current partner, Miss Pretty Grey Eyes (as Holly calls her) really are interesting and well-drawn characters that add some depth. It’s not till later that you start poking all these holes in the story.
I think he could have done better. I wonder if he set out to write a detective trilogy and just couldn’t come up with a final installment without drawing from the supernatural well? I give King a lot of credit for spending time in many more genres than just horror, but there’s no denying that the horror part is dominant and present most of the time, even if it’s quiet. This trilogy is absolutely worth a read. The first book is good, the second book is better, and this one will entertain most people while they’re reading it, I think. It’s just the weakest link.