As you are well aware, Constant Reader, I am a huge Stephen King fan, and have been since I read Carrie I was fourteen all those years ago. I don’t have the same urgency I used to have with King, when I would buy the books on their release date in hardcover and then put everything aside so I could read it from beginning to end; there are numerous King novels on my shelves that I’ve yet to read–11/22/63 and Doctor Sleep, among others–and along with them, for a very long time, was End of Watch.
End of Watch is the third in what is called the Bill Hodges trilogy, following Mr. Mercedes and Finders Keepers, both of which I thoroughly enjoyed (Mr. Mercedes deservedly won the Edgar Award for Best Novel from the Mystery Writers of America). I would occasionally glance at the shelf of unread King novels from my easy chair and think, “I really need to read End of Watch” but never got around to it.
So, given my discovery that most audiobooks are too long for the twelve hour trip home, I decided that I would listen to End of Watch (thirteen hours) on my way home; then I could just get the book down from the shelf and finish reading it at home. So, I got in the car Friday morning, opened the app, and linked my phone to the stereo in my car. I pulled out of the driveway, and as I was pulling onto the highway I suddenly remembered, Oh no! The reason I haven’t read this is because it’s the last Bill Hodges book, and I love the characters so much I didn’t want to finish and say goodbye to Bill, Holly and Jerome for good!
But it was too late, so I soldiered on.
It’s always darkest before the dawn.
This elderly chestnut occurred to Rob Martin as the ambulance he drove rolled slowly along Upper Marlborough Street toward home base, which was Firehouse 3. It seemed to him that whoever thought that one up really got hold of something, because it was darker than a woodchuck’s asshole this morning, and dawn wasn’t far away.
Not that this daybreak would be up to much even when it finally got rolling; call it dawn with a hangover. The fog was heavy and smelled of the nearby not-so-great Great Lake. A fine cold drizzle had begun to fall through it, just to add to the fun. Rob clicked the wiper control from intermittent to slow. Not far up ahead, two unmistakable yellow arches rose from the murk.
“The Golden Tits of America!” Jason Rapsis cried from the shotgun seat. Rob had worked with any number of paramedics over his fifteen years as an EMT, and Jace Rapsis was the best: easygoing when nothing was happening, unflappable and sharply focused when everything was happening at once. “We shall be fed! God bless capitalism! Pull in, pull in!”
The opening chapter of this book is a perfect example of King at his best. The two EMT’s in this opening aren’t characters pertinent to the story nor do they appear again (one of them actually does, but very briefly, much later); they are simply the framing device King uses to get the story rolling. They are the ones called to the scene of the murder/suicide the opens the book, and King exquisitely captures their personalities and lives, vividly making them real and alive in their brief pages; he does this throughout the book, introducing a cameo character and bringing that person vividly to life.
Retired cop and now private eye Bill Hodges and his business partner (and friend/family) Holly Gibney are brought into the case because one of the two victims was paralyzed from the chest down by the monstrous Mercedes Killer, Brady Hartsfield, whom Holly put into a coma before he could detonate a bomb at a boy-band concert filled with screaming tweens (the very thrilling conclusion to Mr. Mercedes). And before long, some very strange things keep happening, and all the evidence, the only connection, is that everyone involved has some connection to Brady Hartsfield…who is still in a coma.
Or is he?
End of Watch takes the series, in a brilliant finale, into King’s world, of experimental drugs that can develop telekinesis (back to Firestarter), and also the psychology of ‘herd mentality’; Brady has been given experimental drugs that have somehow given him horrible abilities…and he uses those abilities to infiltrate the minds of others, using a hand-held gaming device, and pushing them to suicide. Again, King’s genius is seriously involved here, as we go into those teen minds and see how the descent into suicidal depression works…and how easy it is to trigger that spiral. It’s absolutely terrifying, and absolutely real. And once the story gets going, it’s the usual fast-moving train that King always writes, and when I got home from the trip Friday night I couldn’t wait to get my copy down from the shelf and read the stunning, brilliant, utterly satisfying conclusion.
And immediately became sad. I love the characters of Bill, Holly and Jerome, and was deeply sad to realize I had indeed, reached the end of the watch with them.
(one caveat: I did struggle with the depiction of one of the suicide victims–a gay teen–but finally decided that it was okay because he was depicted sympathetically, if stereotypically, and King is making an effort to diversify his work. So, I gave him a pass on the gay teen character.)