You Make Me Feel Brand New

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.

end of watch

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.

Highly recommended.

(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.)

Seasons in the Sun

SO lovely to be home. I drove a positively obscene amount of miles this week, and it’s lovely to be home.

The Saints won Thursday (GEAUX SAINTS!) and tonight is LSU/Texas A&M (GEAUX TIGERS!).

And I am completely and utterly exhausted.

This trip, rather than playing and listening to music in the car, I decided to try listening to audiobooks. I was a complete and utter Luddite when it came to audiobooks; I was warily aware of them (like podcasts) but wasn’t really quite sure how they worked or when you would listen to them. But I figured driving for twelve hours twice within a five day period would give me time to listen to an entire book (I was very incorrect in that assumption) and also thought I could use my library card to borrow one or two. I wound up with A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin for the ride up and End of Watch by Stephen King for the ride back. I wasn’t sure how this would work out; I generally don’t like being read to, and I was worried I’d either be too busy paying attention to driving to listen or listening would distract me from driving. I was also more than a little taken aback to see it was over thirty-three hours long; far too long to be completed on this trip, and I wasn’t sure I’d want togo three days between listening and still not being done. I decided to take my copy of the novel with me, figuring it would be easy to find my place in the book and just finish reading it while there. Likewise with End of Watch, which is slightly more than thirteen hours. I’d find my place in the hard copy and finish it when I got home.

I was very pleasantly surprised with the experience, frankly.

I did finish A Game of Thrones as planned, and I have about 100 pages of End of Watch to go before I am finished with it as well, which will hopefully happen today.

I also have about a million emails to wade through and answer.

Just thinking about it makes me tired.

I also read “The Sequel” by R. L. Stine, from Bibliomysteries Volume Two, edited by Otto Penzler:

Witness one Zachary Gold, 33. Youthful, tanned, long and lean, tensed over his laptop in the back corner of the coffee shop, one hand motionless over the keyboard.

Casual in a white Polo shirt to emphasize his tan, khaki cargo shorts, white Converse All-Stars. He grips the  empty cardboard Latte cup, starts to raise it, then sets it down. Should he order a third, maybe a Grande this time?

Zachary Gold, an author in search of a plot, begs the gods of caffeine to bring him inspiration. He is an author in the hold of that boring cliche, the Sophomore Slump. And his days of no progress on the second novel have taught him only that cliches are always true.

R. L. Stine hardly needs an introduction from me; people call me profilings, but my output is nothing compared to Mr. Stine’s. I particularly enjoyed reading his Fear Street books (not even I, voracious reader that I am, could actually read them all), and they helped inspire me (along with Stephen King) to try to connect all of my young adult novels in some way; which I not only did but wound up connecting all my novels. I’ve met him several times and have corresponded with him briefly; he’s very gracious and kind.

This story is terrific; and definitely not for kids. The main character is a young author, with a wife and baby, whose first novel was enormously successful and yet…he is undergoing what is often referred to as a “sophomore slump”; he cannot figure out what he wants to write next–but he definitely doesn’t want to write a sequel to the first, as his agent wants him to. He often writes in coffee shops, needing the background noise to help him focus (similarly, music or the television in another room much works the same way for me), and then one morning in his usual coffee shop, struggling to write, or come up with any idea, he is approached by a very large and belligerent man who claims he wrote the manuscript Zachary stole and published…and then the tale is off and running. But there are many twists and different directions the story takes, and I can assure you–you won’t see the final one.

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