End of Watch by Stephen King
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
If I look at it as the glass being half-full then this is the best of the books King has done with the Bill Hodges character. On the other hand it’s still pretty much a shoulder shrug of a three star read which tells you how little I thought of this trilogy so I’m pretty sure that cup is half-empty after all.
Uncle Stevie tried his hand at doing a straight up crime thriller with Mr. Mercedes, but I found it to be a painful slog of poor plotting, uneven pacing, and a main character who came across as a reckless and irresponsible jackass. Finders Keepers had a pretty decent concept, but again it’s biggest flaw revolved around Hodges himself because he was almost completely irrelevant to the story which again highlighted that King struggles with mystery novels.
Now here in the third book King has thrown in the towel on trying to write a straight-up action thriller/ detective novel and gone back to his roots with a villain who has psychic and telekinetic abilities. By introducing spooky powers King doesn’t have to rely on trying to put together a logical chain of events that depend on characters reasonably deducing things or behaving rationally. Instead, he can have them following hunches and feelings, and the supernatural element keeps him from having to twist the plot into pretzels to make it all work. Like a lot of King novels most of the characters also seem to have an uncanny knack for guessing at what's happening elsewhere which seems more acceptable with all the bizarre stuff going on.
As a Stephen King horror story by itself End of Watch would probably rank somewhere in the middle of his works. The problem is that it builds on the far weaker Mr. Mercedes as a foundation. Finders Keepers can be skipped, but it’s telling that you can bypass one-third of the story and still follow the major narrative. So what you end up is a trilogy that started as a very flawed crime thriller, had a second book with zero impact on the main story, and then goes paranormal in the third act with only some minor hints dropped in the previous book that it’s coming.
The only reason to like these three books being stringed together is if King managed to make you love the main character, Bill Hodges, and his two assistants/friends. I didn’t. I mean, I really didn’t. When he wasn’t hiding critical evidence and inspiring a maniac to seek new levels of carnage Hodges came across as this bland, grandfatherly figure. Mostly he exists to ask tech questions of his younger colleagues who seem to look up to him for some reason. I never really buy him as a tough ex-cop, and he sure as hell isn’t a brilliant detective which is shown yet again here when the major breakthrough in this one comes from Hodges asking a very basic question that he failed to do in an earlier interview. [ to finding out that the Hodges has terminal cancer was relief that his recklessness and general incompetence wouldn’t be endangering the public any more. At last, his reign of terror has ended! Also, in three books Hodges is never once the guy who actually stops the main baddie during the final showdowns. So what purpose did he really serve? (hide spoiler)]
King tries desperately to make the reader care about Hodges and his two friends/assistants, but I’m left thinking that it would have been better for Uncle Stevie to just do this basic story as one book which could have been easily accomplished. Finders Keepers also could have been a better stand-alone book without trying to cram it into this narrative.
One other note of complaint: I doubt that King accepts product placement fees for his books, but I was really starting to wonder if MacDonald’s hadn’t paid him off when the first several pages feature an adult EMT completely losing his shit over the prospect of going through the drive-thru. This guy, who a few pages later will be portrayed as a clear headed hero in a crisis, has this gem of a line when he sees the yellow arcs of a MacDonald’s sign: ”The Golden Tits of America!”
Classy. I guess I wouldn't turn down CPR from the guy if I had a heart attack, but I can only hope he's not too busy making boob jokes and doesn't have a hunk of half-chewed Egg McMuffin in his mouth if he gives me mouth-to-mouth.
Overall, I found all three books underwhelming. It really should have been one or two good Stephen King novels vs. two-thirds of a very flawed crime trilogy that Uncle Stevie tried to salvage by going weird in the last one.
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