Perhaps my most anticipated novel of 2015, Stephen King's latest offering is a playful and intriguing take on the writer-reader relationship.
I am going to try to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible since Finders Keepers released yesterday and most folks probably haven't finished it yet. So, alas, I will only offer my general thoughts on the novel instead of some deep analysis (which I always used to do with King's latest releases on my old blog) -- this is a novel that's best left unspoiled. If my review comes off as vague, my apologies.
The novel opens with one of King's fastest-moving chapters to date. Morris Bellamy and two partners in crime have invaded the home of John Rothstein, a powerful force in the world of mid-20th century literature, often mentioned with the likes of Salinger, Updike, and Jackson. The author of the ever-popular Jimmy Gold trilogy, Bellamy is miffed that his favorite author "forced" Jimmy Gold, a character Bellamy adores, to "sell out" by going from being a rebellious young man in the first book to starting a family and building a career in advertisement in the final novel. This isn't acceptable to Bellamy, a dangerous book lover who has caught wind that Rothstein has still been writing -- but not publishing -- in the last twenty years or so that he's been a recluse. Perhaps there is even a fourth Jimmy Gold novel -- a novel that brings the character that Bellamy loves so much back to his original, rebellious way of life.
One of Bellamy's partners finds Rothstein's large safe, which is filled with countless notebooks of Rothstein's writing and thousands of dollars. The author gets robbed and murdered, and only a few days after his great discovery and horrendous crime (which, Bellamy assures himself, was done out of love to the legacy of Jimmy Gold), the wholly devoted Rothstein fan finds himself behind bars for an unrelated crime. He's stuck in jail for thirty-five years, and the only thing that keeps him going is the trunk of money and notebooks he had the forethought to bury beneath a tree near his house. When he gets out, he's going to finally get his hands on his favorite author's work -- work that no eyes have seen.
Years later, a young boy named Pete Saubers discovers the trunk and is astonished to find it's filled with money and notebooks. Sensing he's found something of great importance, he sneakily moves all of this into his bedroom and comes up with a plan for the money. The year before, his father was seriously injured in the City Center Massacre detailed in the previous book in this trilogy, Mr. Mercedes. Out of work and unable to walk, the Saubers family is tapped for cash and reaching its breaking point. Tired of constantly hearing his parents argue, Pete decides to send them $500 each month, anonymously. It's a kind and heart-warming gesture, and my eyes might have watered a little when I first read it (darn you, King, for making me feel the feely feels!). One thing I really loved about getting to know all four members of the Saubers clan is seeing how the massacre in King's 2014 novel really affected the families -- Pete's father isn't a number, but a person. In a subtle way, King deepens the reader's hatred of Brady Hartsfield and methinks he ain't done with that Mercedes-driving baddie (a figure who doesn't really make many appearances in this novel but casts a large shadow over the work as a whole) yet.
In 2014, Bellamy is released from prison and that's where the story really takes off......
..... Only not really. Okay, unpopular opinion time: my enjoyment level went way down with Det. Kermit Hodges from Mr. Mercedes was introduced, and that is due to a couple of things. 1.) I just don't think Hodges is an interesting character. He was intriguing at the beginning of Mr. Mercedes when he was fighting post-retirement depression. Heck, I thought it was neat to see his gradual reformation into an older, wiser, and more cunning version of his former detective self when going after the main baddie in that novel. But here.... He's just not likable. I know King wants us to like him, but he just doesn't click with me. Holly, his friend and now co-worker, fares a bit better. And don't even get me started on Jerome...... (At least he doesn't do the self-deprecating jive-talk bit as much this time!)
2.) King switches to third person present when writing about Hodges/anything to do with Finders Keepers, which is his new detective agency of sorts. I get what he's doing -- he's trying to recreate the tense atmosphere of Mr. Mercedes but it's just jarring and intrusive, much like the "bird's eye view" thing in Under the Dome. Perhaps it wouldn't be as jarring as it is if it didn't come almost 200 pages in, and if King didn't switch between present and past tense a lot. It becomes head-ache inducing, honestly, and it throws the novel off-balance a bit.
..... So, after page 160 (or thereabouts), I found myself sort of skimming pretty sizable chunks of this novel. They weren't bad.... They just felt boring to me, especially when contrasted with Bellamy, Pete Saubers, and Andy the book collector. Those guys are interesting; I don't feel like spending time with characters that, honestly, annoy me -- and that was definitely not King's intention. As I said earlier, Hodges is just sort of there, as is Jerome. He doesn't jive-talk as much this time around, and that was basically his entire personality in the first book, so..... He has almost nothing to do besides be the older brother of Barbara, best friend to Pete's younger sister, Tina, which makes some of the plot too convenient -- it acts as an easy way of getting characters from point A to point B without much struggle on King's part. The problem is, at times, these people don't really feel like people at all but chess-pieces.
Holly, on the other hand, is a slightly better character than her cohorts, but that ain't saying much. She still has her occasional tic from the first book, but she's really grown up and changed for the better since the first outing. She's not particular interesting, but I like her anyway.
Overall, King's latest thriller is just that -- a thriller. It's no coincidence that it was released in June; it's the perfect summer read. I'm going to award this one a solid four stars -- it has some issues for sure (don't even get me started on some of the kids' dialogue!) but it's a rewarding suspense novel that, for the most part, works. King keeps the pressure on his characters and the reader throughout the 431 pages. The suspense never lets up. Morris Bellamy is the star here, and his deep and unbridled passion for the written word rivals that of Annie Wilkes. He is scary but also easy to sympathise with. Unlike Brady in the last novel, he messes up in big and small ways and seems rather human and relatatable. What it comes down to is he is a lonely man driven by obsession and a deep need to fill a hole in his life. Pete is a neat kid, and I really felt for him throughout. When I think of Finders Keepers, I think of these two characters above all else, as I think it should be.
In his advanced age, King is ever-changing. He's mellowed out some, sure, but his modern work has a certain nuance and richness his early stuff doesn't have as much of. The bone-chilling final chapter hints that the last book in this trilogy, The Suicide Prince, will be the darkest and scariest of the three. I can't wait.
2016 update: My overall opinion of FINDERS KEEPERS changed a bit upon rereading — shocker! My thinking has gone from "this is a "pretty good book" to "this is one of King's genuine masterpieces." SK is always at his best when writing about writing, or writing about obsession. This book combines both of those in a full-throttle, action-packed story that works better than the second book in any trilogy should. I still don't care much for Jerome, but he doesn't play a major part here, so it's whatever. Bill Hodges has grown on me now that I've gotten more of a feel for him in these rereads, and I absolutely love Holly.
Finally: this novel's ending is King's second best, only beaten by PET SEMATARY. Yes.
Needless to say, I updated my original rating from four stars to five.