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endofwatch

Clack.

Stephen King wasn’t messing around when he closed “Finders Keepers” – the second book in his Bill Hodges trilogy – with that singular word (a reference to a framed photo falling over). King had hinted that the evil genius that wreaked such havoc in the first book (“Mr. Mercedes”) hadn’t completely shuffled off this mortal coil, and he was serious. Deadly serious.

Yes indeed, Brady Hartsfield, one of King’s most despicable villains, is alive and plotting all new horrible things in “End of Watch,” the satisfying conclusion to this crackerjack detective series.

After a brief opening chapter that flashes back five years to the scene of the original crime – where Hartsfield mowed down several people with a stolen Mercedes – we are re-introduced to retired police officer/now private investigator Bill Hodges, sitting in his doctor’s waiting room. He’s our everyman hero, trying to cope with aging, his distrust of technology and people in general. After a phone call from his former police partner about a local murder-suicide with ties to that earlier crime, Hodges dashes out of the waiting room and is once again drawn into Hartsfield’s web.

But how, King’s “constant readers” may ask, can Hartsfield be doing anything? When we last saw him, he appeared to be a vegetable residing in a Traumatic Brain Injury Clinic. As the aforementioned “clack” suggested, there’s something very dangerous going on behind those seemingly dead eyes, and King taps his supernatural bag of tricks to explain just how Hartsfield plans to destroy Hodges and all those whom he feels have wronged him (a good portion of the book’s final third could be renamed “Brady Hartsfield – How I Did It”). No spoilers here, but you may never look at your handheld electronic device the same way again.

King brings back characters from the first two books (my favorite: the socially awkward Holly Gibney, Hodges’ partner at the detective agency) and introduces a few new ones. He excels once again by giving all of them human traits and foibles, making the reader wonder and worry about who will remain standing as the story hurtles toward an inevitable standoff between Hodges and Hartsfield (a warning to the squeamish, there are several frank depictions of suicide in this story).

As the book’s title suggests, there is finality and loss in the final pages. Readers may find themselves wiping away a few tears as this well-written, involving series comes to an end.

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bazaarofbaddreams‘The Bazaar of Bad Dreams: Stories’ by Stephen King

Stephen King’s latest is his first collection of short stories in five years (“Full Dark, No Stars” was published in 2010). It’s full of some of King’s favorite tales — some never have been in print before — and themes familiar to his “constant readers”: the importance of literature, questions of morality, evil beings and death. Lots of death.

What else would you expect from this prolific purveyor of nightmares?

The collection is preceded by a typical introduction by the author, but then each of the 20 stories features another introduction from King, who informs the reader of the origins of that story.

Things begin with “Mile 81,” a sort of mash-up of two of King’s earlier works (to name them here might reveal too much). In it, a young boy is abandoned by his brother and decides to ride his Huffy bike to an old rest stop on the Interstate, where the initial thrill at prowling through an abandoned building gives way to a standoff with an evil that this reader never saw coming.

Some stories are based on real-life events King read about or witnessed himself. “Batman and Robin Have an Altercation” sprung from seeing a son helping his elderly father eat in a restaurant. “That Bus is Another World” was inspired by an experience King had while stopped in traffic in Paris (it reminded me of the set up for a classic Hitchcock story). And the devastating “Herman Wouk is Still Alive” was written after the author read the story of a horrific car accident.

In the middle of the collection is the great tale “Ur,” originally published in 2009 as a single for the Kindle e-reader. It concerns a small-town college professor who decides to give in to technological peer pressure and order the device. The tale then takes off as the professor discovers unknown works by literary greats (Hemingway, Shakespeare) and then shifts to a race against time as he tries to save the woman he loves.

Two tales feature tough decisions. “Afterlife” is King’s surprisingly humorous take on what happens to one older man after he crosses over into that “great white light,” and then is faced with the decision either to head off to oblivion or relive his life again. The unsettling “Morality” centers on a young couple’s deal with the devil that the two are sure they can win. Good luck trying to shake this one, I still haven’t.

“Premium History” revolves around a bickering couple and their dog in a car on their way to Wal-Mart. Fate plays cruel tricks here on all three characters, while “The Dune” tells the tale of an old man who confesses to his younger lawyer that he knows of a sand dune on a small island where the names of people who are about to die appear.

The closing story, “Summer Thunder,” set in a post-apocalyptic Vermont, features another canine — this one named Gandalf — who will more than likely haunt your dreams for a very, very long time.

King’s constant readers will devour this new collection — the author is in rare form, not only talking to the reader directly in each introduction, but in making his characters fully human. Their hopes and their dreams are all on display. King says himself in the opening pages, “Feel free to examine them, but please be careful. The best of them have teeth.” Indeed.

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Finders_Keepers_2015

Imagine this: You are in possession of unknown and unpublished works of a respected, famous (and now dead) author. What would you do? Would you try and sell them on the black market? Would you keep them under lock and key and tell no one? What if someone found out that you had them? What would you do to preserve them?

In “Finders Keepers,” Stephen King’s fast-paced sequel to his great 2014 detective novel “Mr. Mercedes,” several characters are presented with these questions.

As the new story begins, reclusive author John Rothstein is awakened by three masked intruders in his rural New Hampshire cabin one early morning in 1978. Yes, they want his money, but could Rothstein be hiding a final, unpublished novel?

Morris Bellamy, the group’s leader (and big Rothstein fan — shades of Annie Wilkes in “Misery”), is determined to find the hidden literary treasure and to give the author a piece of his mind. This opening chapter ends with a literal bang, leaving Rothstein dead and Bellamy on the run, in possession of something he’s only dreamed about: an unpublished work by his favorite author.

We then jump forward a few decades and meet the Saubers, an all-American family of four, living in the same unnamed Midwestern city that was the setting for “Mr. Mercedes.” Dad Tom is heading to a job fair — the same deadly job fair that opened “Mr. Mercedes.” Tom survives the horror that happens there, but he is gravely injured, and the family’s financial situation starts to decline.

When, years later, teenage son Peter Saubers discovers a duffel bag containing thousands of dollars and the countless notebooks of Rothstein’s stolen work buried near his house, he is delighted to use the found money to help is family. But how did this literal buried treasure get there, and — more important — will someone come looking for it?

We don’t meet retired detective Bill Hodges (the hero everyman of “Mr. Mercedes”) until page 157, when he’s working a case at the airport. He’s moving on with his life after the events that ended “Mr. Mercedes,” and he has created a company called “Finders Keepers” with two other characters from the first book: socially awkward Holly Gibney and college student Jerome Robinson.

King has remained such a renowned and popular author by tapping into basic human truths. We discover what sets Bellamy on his criminal course and the source of his capacity for violence.

We follow young Peter as he acquires his love of literature — from one of those memorable teachers who make it come alive — and is then torn between the love for his family and the way the world actually works. And what a delight to have Bill, Holly and Jerome back working on this new case.

King gives the reader a little character development here, some plot progression there, until the inevitable finale — the final third will be devoured, likely in one sitting. Yes, there is violence: a brief visit to that job fair where Tom is injured, and some very nasty business involving Bellamy and an ax. By King’s standards it’s fairly mild, but sensitive readers beware.

And speaking of villains and violence, what about Brady Hartsfield, the intelligent and disturbed young man who wrought such havoc in “Mr. Mercedes”?

Readers of the first book will know he survived the previous story only to end up a vegetable in a Traumatic Brain Injury Clinic. Hodges visits him there twice in “Finders Keepers,” and without giving too much away, I have a feeling King isn’t done with him yet. He closes this second book of a planned trilogy with just one word (and one that will haunt your dreams for a very long time): Clack.

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revival_sking

‘Revival’ by Stephen King

Scribner, 416 pp., $30

Stephen King’s second new novel this year (his straight-up detective novel “Mr. Mercedes” published in June) is mostly a return to creepy form for the prolific author of horror and suspense.

In his new novel, “Revival,” King gives us a relatable narrator/hero and a villain with power issues. Then he has them drift in and out of each other’s lives over the next 50 years, leading up to an electric finale where good triumphs (the reader hopes) over evil.

When we first meet hero Jamie Morton, it is October of 1962 and he is 6 years old, playing in the dirt outside his family home in rural Maine. We also meet the Reverend Charles Jacobs, a charismatic young preacher who has moved to town to take over the pulpit at the First United Methodist Church of Harlow. He also has an odd fascination with electricity.

We follow Jamie through his first young love and the discovery of his talent for playing guitar. Jamie goes on to discover fame and all its pitfalls. King clearly wants the reader to identify with Jamie, and the passages about his family life and relationships can be quite touching.

The Rev. Jacobs suffers a loss early on — described in grisly detail — and while he continues, in a fashion, to preach, his life and fate are forever determined by this tragedy.

And this is my one small complaint with the story. Jacobs leaves the church and doesn’t surface again until decades later, running a sideshow carnival specializing in “portraits in lightning.” Later, he becomes a revival-show healer, devolving into a reclusive, evil villain. The reader has spent the majority of time with Jamie, and not enough time with Jacobs to understand this transition.

This is not to say that fans won’t love King’s new novel. I think they will. The characters feel like real people, and their reactions to events — everyday and supernatural — are believable.   They might even find themselves (as I did) reading this tale of morality, redemption and faith long into the night.

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18775152

In 2008, in the foggy early-morning hours in an unnamed Midwestern city, something horrific happens to a group of innocent people waiting in line at a job fair. Since this is the opening of “Mr. Mercedes,” the latest novel by Stephen King, you might expect something supernatural to be the cause, but the title character is all too human. It’s someone you might hire to fix your computer or who would drive an ice-cream truck in your neighborhood.

King has written a straight-up detective novel here, a page-turner without a ghoul or ghost in sight, but plenty of well-drawn characters. After the gruesome opening chapter, King gets down to what he does best, the business of introducing us to his key players.

First up, there’s retired detective Bill Hodges, who left the police force months ago without ever solving the now-famous crime. He’s the relatable everyman character that you identify with and root for, who’s becoming bored and complacent (and possibly suicidal) in retirement. Then one day a lengthy and taunting letter arrives with his daily mail from someone claiming to be the “perk.”

Not long thereafter, the reader meets Brady Hartsfield, the self-described “perk” (Hartsfield, who thinks he’s using police jargon, means “perp” for perpetrator). He’s a quiet, intelligent and disturbed young man who works two jobs (at a big electronics store and delivering ice cream), has a basement lair full of technology and a more than disturbing relationship with his alcoholic mother.

No one can create a villain quite like King. Brady is the product of his upbringing and environment. You pity and fear him at the same time.

Then the deadly cat-and-mouse game begins. Hodges gets pulled back into the case and enlists the help of a college-age neighbor kid who helps him negotiate and understand the world of computers, chat rooms and hard drives that have passed him by. While Hartsfield, initially claiming to never want to commit another crime, begins to slowly plot a new and even deadlier one.

And this is where King excels, doling out just a little bit of information on the crime here, filling in a little more background on his characters there, switching points of view between the two main characters and introducing secondary ones that may or may not make it to the final pages.

It’s a rather short read, by King standards (just over 400 pages), but all the elements come together in a very public, potentially explosive finale (with a surprising post script). King fans may find themselves furiously turning pages long into the night.

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