I enjoyed Stephen King’s step into thriller territory with last year’s Mr. Mercedes more than most, it would seem (my review on Goodreads). While I remember thinking that that book was lacking in genuine surprises, I liked where it went, I enjoyed my time with the characters, and I thought it was a successful novel overall. It was quickly revealed that Mr. Mercedes was the first entry in a trilogy surrounding retired detective Bill Hodges and his unlikely allies Holly and Jerome. Finders Keepers definitely counts as part two of the trilogy, but it’s this weird sidestep in the story where the trilogy’s primary arc is left in the background while a secondary villain holds down the fort for a one-time deal.
King uses Finders Keepers to address two subjects concerning writing that he’s written about before. The first is the talented writer who quits – something that King wrote about in On Writing, where he questioned how a gifted author could stop telling stories. The second is the rabid and irrational literary fans, as seen previously in King’s classic Misery (memorably brought to life by Kathy Bates in the Rob Reiner film).
In Finders Keepers, the famous author John Rothstein has withdrawn from public life after the third book in his Jimmy Gold series left his character in a comfortable, happy place. Rothstein’s biggest fan Morris Bellamy doesn’t approve of the final Jimmy Gold book. Not. One. Bit. So, Morris breaks into Rothstein’s house, kills the old man, and raids his safe. What does he find in the safe? About $20,000 and a series of notebooks, all of which seem to contain new Rothstein fiction and… a new Jimmy Gold book. Morris stashes the goods in a trunk in the woods and is quickly arrested for an unrelated crime. When he gets out from jail, Morris expects he’ll be able to retrieve his treasure and enjoy the final Jimmy Gold book as if it was written just for him. Except, in the time that he’s been locked away, a young boy finds the trunk, uses the cash to keep his struggling family afloat, and falls in love with Rothstein’s prose. When Morris is finally released from jail, a series of well-constructed twists put him on a collision course with the young man.
What’s surprising is how long it takes before Bill Hodges enters the story. But that seems to be the issue with Finders Keepers in general: it takes a long time to set the table before things are allowed to go bad. To be clear, the earlier sections of the book are still pretty good – there’s some fine characterization, a few interesting coincidences that link hero and villain before they ever meet, and the typically fantastic Stephen King prose. But yes, it does take a while to get going. When finally Bill Hodges is brought into the story, Finders Keepers presents him with a hero role, but by now he’s been automatically downgraded to a supporting character.
Finders Keepers is a curious detour for a trilogy to take. It’s impossible to imagine it as a standalone novel and yet at the same time the story feels only barely connected to Mr. Mercedes. It’s almost like King came up with a story that clicked for him and then thought, ‘hey, what if I put Bill Hodges into it,’ and TADA! Finders Keepers.
If the ending of Finders Keepers is any indication, the final book of the trilogy End of Watch seems like it’s going to be more closely related to the primary arc of the heroes and villains than Book 2 was. And I’m not going to spoil anything, but the last chapter of Finders Keepers hints that Book 3 is going to take our characters into some unexpected places. I’m looking forward to it.
Finders Keepers gets a positive rating from me. I liked it less than Mr. Mercedes, though. There’s a lot of setup and it takes a long time to reach the payoff. Still, I enjoyed getting a chance to catchup with Hodges, Jerome, and Holly, some of King’s most likable real-world heroes. Like Mr. Mercedes, I don’t think Finders Keepers is ever going to be considered one of Stephen King’s very best, but it’s an enjoyable departure from the norm for an author better known for his horror and fantasy novels. I remain a King fan and look forward to what comes next.
I’m giving Finders Keepers a 3.5 out of 5.
Cross-posted to Goodreads.
Writer of horror, science fiction, and dark fantasy. Lover of fiction and film. Lifelong Godzilla fan. Reluctant blogger.
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