Written by Stephen King — One year on from Mr Mercedes, Stephen King’s highly successful foray into crime fiction, he’s back with a follow-up. Finders Keepers is also a mystery novel, though it’s more of a companion story than a direct sequel. Intriguingly, though, a third book in the series called The Suicide Prince is planned and – no spoilers allowed – that promises to feature a key character from Mr Mercedes and an element of the supernatural.
King excels at horror, of course, but he’s also got those essential literary gifts for creating character, suspense and a page-turning plot, which every good thriller author requires. The opening of Finders Keepers matches the first book for its audacity in drawing upon real-life figures. Last time it involved a certain boy band. King begins this novel by essentially murdering JD Salinger – or at least a fictional author based on him – in a shocking burst of violence by a fan. Morris Bellamy claims the writer – John Rothstein – turned his greatest literary creation into a sell-out.
Bellamy, a college dropout who did a spell in youth detention, was a devotee of the Jimmy Gold novels by John Rothstein – at least until the final book in the trilogy. Rothstein is a great American author who’s not published anything since the early 60s. In 1978, Bellamy and a couple of not-so-bookish henchmen head to the reclusive author’s home to empty the safe. Bellamy’s cohorts are delirious at the cash they find, but Bellamy has his eye on a bigger prize: dozens of Moleskine notebooks, which he suspects are full of unpublished work.
When the ageing author suggests Bellamy’s not as smart as he likes to think, the younger man puts a bullet in his head. But even in his final moments, Rothstein was perceptive about his killer. Bellamy is rebuffed by bookseller Andrew Halliday, whose casual remarks had inspired the half-baked plan to steal the notebooks and sell them to a private collector – after reading them, of course. In 1978, the Moleskines (a typical brand name detail by King) are way too hot to sell. Rothstein’s murder remains unsolved yet fate prevents Bellamy from reading the notebooks, which he stashed away in a trunk along with the money.
When the novel moves forward to 2010, the Saubers family is living in Bellamy’s former home and trying to cope with the aftermath of the attack by serial killer Mr Mercedes, who ploughed his SL500 into a queue of job seekers in the unnamed Midwestern city. Thomas Saubers suffered serious leg injuries, which add to the financial pressure during the recession. When 13-year-old Pete Saubers finds the buried treasure in Bellamy’s trunk, he decides to secretly help his family with the stolen cash. But it’s the Moleskines that take over his life. When he discovers literature through a gifted teacher, he realises what he’s got. It leads to a priceless scene in which the teacher talks about the Jimmy Gold trilogy, while the pupil’s in the unique position of having read the Jimmy Gold pentalogy because, essentially, he holds two further unpublished folios.
Both Pete and Morris are possessed by these notebooks, which cast a malevolent spell like the ring in Tolkien’s stories. One has read the unpublished Rothstein novels, the other is desperate to read them. It sets up another of King’s cat-and-mouse scenarios, with the additional involvement of Drew Halliday, now a corpulent dealer in rare books. He’s in it for the money but he senses that both Pete and Morris have that collector’s mania that could be their downfall.
The main connection to Mr Mercedes is retired cop Bill Hodges, who now has a detective agency called Finders Keepers and is watching his health. He’s not as successful a character this time simply because he has less at stake, but at least Hodges only has a supporting role. The creepy pleasure in this novel is the portrayal of literary obsession that can drive a reader into insanity. At one point Morris is described as Rothsein’s number one fan – a chilling reminder of King’s novel Misery. For crime fans and King fans, Finders Keepers is a doubly satisfying sequel.
Hodder & Stoughton
CFL Rating: 4 Stars