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Literature / Mr. Mercedes

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Mr. Mercedes is a novel by Stephen King, described as the author's first hard-boiled detective novel.

A psychopath drives a stolen Mercedes into a crowd of people, leaving eight people dead and fifteen wounded. He is never caught. A year later, retired cop Bill Hodges is sent a letter by the killer taking responsibility for the crime. What ensues is a game of cat and mouse between the two as Bill must track down 'Mr. Mercedes' before he can strike again.

Mr. Mercedes is the first installment in King's Hodges Trilogy. The second volume, Finders Keepers, was released in 2015, and the third, End of Watch, was released in 2016. It marks the debut of Holly Gibney.

A series adaptation, starring Brendan Gleeson and Harry Treadaway as detective and killer respectively, premiered on AT&T's Audience Network on August 9, 2017. Originally intended as a miniseries, additional seasons adapted the later books in the series. Following the Audience network's discontinuation, the show's distribution rights were acquired by Peacock, though no forthcoming season has been announced. Tropes that relate solely to the TV series should go there instead.

The novel contains examples of the following:

  • Abusive Parents:
    • On one hand, one could understand the stress of Deborah Ann when it comes to handling Frankie once he became mentally disabled, perhaps even giving her a bit of leeway for occasionally getting mad with her afflicted son. But on the other hand, kicking his firetruck down the basement stairs and then nodding for her other son Brady to kick Frankie down said stairs, and then to lie about what really happened says other things.
    • Charlotte Gibney is a much more cut-and-dry example, degrading and downsizing Holly's psychological issues and insistently treating her like a child. The narration makes it plain that Holly's life is awful and her mental state is in constant flux - and that Charlotte is more or less to blame for all of it.
  • Adult Child: Holly provides a rare Played for Drama example. At forty-five she still lives with her controlling mother, who treats her like a particularly young and ineffectual teenager, a role she's grown so used to she barely even questions it until after Janey's death. She also has shades of One of the Kids, considering how well she and seventeen-year-old Jerome end up getting on.
    • Brady also counts, though more as a Psychopathic Manchild due to being a murderer. Like Holly, he is a grown adult who lives with his abusive and controlling mother who still treats him as a child in her own way, and he is so slavishly dependant on her that he suffers a complete Villainous Breakdown after she dies (albeit, partly because he is the one who killed her, but also because he no longer has anyone to depend upon).
  • Age Lift: Justine Lupe's Holly is considerably younger than her book counterpart (31 as opposed to 45), likely as a means to emphasize her eventual role as a surrogate daughter figure to Hodges and to remove the books' ambiguity as to the nature of their relationship. Accordingly, and in line with Cynthia Erivo's Holly being roughly the same age in The Outsider, King retconned on-page Holly to be roughly 23-25 years old during this book as of If It Bleeds.
  • The Alcoholic: Brady's mother, starting from the stress of dealing with Frankie and money woes.
  • Ambiguous Disorder: Or not so ambiguous, because Holly is presented as fairly clearly autistic on top of her lifelong sheltering, with a not-insignificant helping of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and severe anxiety on the side. The sequel makes the former even less ambiguous, with one narration addressing her tics as "Asperger's-like". Notably, both Justine Lupe and Cynthia Erivo, with King's blessing, portrayed Holly as explicitly autistic and said as much in interviews.
  • Artistic License – Cars: In real life, a homemade radio sniffer wouldn't be able to circumvent the security on a Mercedes SL500's keyless entry system. As King points out in the author's note, expensive, high tech cars have expensive, high tech security systems.
  • Asshole Victim: Unintentional on Brady's part, but his mother dying from consuming the poisoned hamburger meat becomes an example once you learn of her part in Frankie's death.
  • Ate His Gun: Hodges is contemplating this at the start of the book.
  • Bad Humor Truck: Brady drives an ice cream truck as one of his jobs. He considers poisoning children but ultimately decides against it- though more for practicality's sake than any sense of morals.
  • Bait-and-Switch: The first half of the novel plays like a straight detective thriller, but then the story drops hints that Olivia Trelawney might be literally haunted by two of the victims of Brady's massacre, a mother and her baby; a plot idea certainly not out of step with King's usual fare. As it turns out, she is not being haunted; Brady has hacked her computer to play specific sound files to make her feel like she's being haunted, all part of his plan to drive her to suicide.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Holly, Jerome and Hodges manage to foil Brady's suicide bombing, Holly gets away from her emotionally abusive mother (which, besides her friendship with the latter two, improves her mental health), and Brady is caught and in a coma. However, Janey is still dead, and Hodges can't ever become a private inspector due to his illegal investigation.
  • Boy Band: 'Round Here, a 4-man group with One Direction-like overtones that shows up frequently throughout the book. The climax takes place at one of their concerts.
  • Canon Welding: A very weird example. King's novels IT and Christine apparently exist as works of fiction within the Mr Mercedes universe, albeit as movies rather than novels; but the number "19" crops up a few times, and Judas Coynenote  is a real in-universe musician rather than a fictional character.
    • It should be noted this isn't King's first continuity Mind Screw: as far back as The Tommyknockers characters were referencing having seen the movie version of IT, only to later visit Derry and briefly encounter the real Pennywise in-universe, so the lack of supernatural elements in Mr Mercedes is not necessarily the culprit of the aforementioned weirdness.
    • The boy band 'Round Here is also mentioned in Doctor Sleep, which may put this in the same universe as The Shining. Given the events of End of Watch, this would actually make an unsettling amount of sense.
  • Car Fu: Brady's first attack utilizes this.
  • Crazy-Prepared: Brady, especially after he commits the Mercedes Killings. He always drives at speed-limit, to even avoid getting on the police's radar because of a speeding ticket, and he only has one computer that has any incriminating evidence on it. And his seven computers? All rigged and wired together, with them turning on with his voice command and immediately beginning a countdown. If the command to stop the countdown isn't said, every computer's files and hard drive are completely wiped. When Hodges begins to get under Brady's skin, he starts to lose some of his crazy-preparedness.
  • Death of a Child: One of the victims in Brady's first attack is an infant. He also murdered his younger brother Frankie when they were children.
  • Death Seeker: Brady gradually becomes more and more of one as the narrative goes on, eventually deciding he'll enact a Taking You with Me bombing at the 'Round Here concert.
  • Decoy Protagonist: Janey isn't the novel's third hero, but a Sacrificial Lion; her cousin Holly is the one who ends up playing the pivotal role in taking down Hartsfield.
    • The first chapter focuses on Augie Odenkirk, down-on-his-lucky, but very likeable. In a huge Gut Punch, the chapter ends with him, the woman he befriends and her baby all getting killed by the title villain
  • Driven to Suicide: Brady manages to push the woman who owned the stolen Mercedes into killing herself. He later tries the same with Bill but fails.
  • 11th-Hour Ranger: Holly is introduced past the midway point and becomes a major character after Janey is killed.
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Brady appears to, and seems to be horrified when she dies after eating the poisoned hamburger. But his "love" for her seems to be more fueled by how she made him feel entitled and "helped him"...
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Brady has no qualms about killing people including his little brother, but when it comes to his relationship with his mother, both had some major heavy shades to them, but kept a distance. Even if his mother posed for some sexy pictures for him or she 'helped' him beat away bad headaches, both vehemently opposed the idea of actually having sex with each other.
  • Foil: Brady and Holly serve this role in relationship to one another. Both are grown adults who, thanks to their abusive mothers damaging them in fundamentally different but equally detrimental ways, never had an opportunity to become emotionally mature. But where Brady is self-absorbed and hateful, blaming society for his circumstances and failings, Holly is endearing, kindhearted, and completely ungrudging toward the world.
  • For the Evulz: Brady's motivations amount to this.
  • Framing the Guilty Party: Hodge tries this with Brady at the concert by labeling him a pedophile, but the killer still slips through security.
  • Gaslighting: Part of the reason for the Mercedes' owner's suicide, thanks to Brady putting a sound file of a crying baby and her "mother" on her computer with a program to make it play at random times.
  • Hero of Another Story:
    • Bill's former partner on the police force and his new partner. While Bill is chasing Brady, they manage to solve two of Bill's other outstanding cases, one that of a serial killer at least as depraved as Mr Mercedes himself, albeit in a very different way. Plus, they help the ATF with the biggest busts of arms dealers ever. This also acts as something of an antidote to the idea that Police Are Useless: they're both very good cops (though maybe not as good as Bill), but are too swamped with another major case to pay close attention to Bill's investigation.
  • Hollywood Atheist/Straw Nihilist: Brady is an example of both, dismissing the idea of God due to the cruelties he's witnessed in his life and welcoming the idea of the darkness he sees following death.
  • Hollywood Autism: Amazingly enough, King almost totally averts this with Holly, though it's somewhat difficult to tell given her myriad of concurrent mental health issues. On top of being a middle-aged woman, two groups rarely associated with autism in any form of media, Holly ticks several of the classic clinical boxes - difficulty with strong emotions, extreme social awkwardness, a strong aversion to being touched, and self-stimulatory behavior like smoking and self-hugging - and although Holly's life is abjectly terrible at the start, the narrative makes it plainly clear that her mother is to blame, not her own neurological quirks. By the end of the book, and especially come the two sequels, Holly's lot improves dramatically minus her mother's influence and she ends up getting to live a pretty good life.
  • Improvised Weapon: The Happy Slapper, an old sock stuffed with ball bearings that Hodges uses to ward off some thugs and Holly uses to bash Brady's head in at the 'Round Here concert.
  • Mauve Shirt: The opening chapter gives a bit of characterization to a number of victims before they are killed by Mr. Mercedes.
  • Monster Clown: Brady wears a clown mask during his Mercedes run. It's described as looking like none other than a certain character from 'that TV movie about the clown in the sewer'.
  • Murder by Mistake: Brady intends to kill Jerome's dog with poisoned hamburger meat. Instead, his mother cooks the meat and ends up dying.
  • Never My Fault: Brady blames his actions on the universe, because if it was truly a good world with a good God and all, he surely wouldn't have done those horrible things. More specifically, when Brady's attempt to poison some hamburger to kill a dog instead kills his mother, hamburger and poison he specifically bought to bring pain to his current nemesis, Brady blamed Detective Hodges.
  • Nice Girl: Holly is probably one of the kindest, least morally complicated characters in King's entire mythos. Though she's very odd and has next to nonexistent social skills, she's unfailingly kind, largely a pacifist, hates swearing, and chronically seems legitimately bewildered at how people like Brady are capable of such outlandish cruelty.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain/Villain Ball: Brady sends the letter to Bill taunting him about his failure to catch him hoping to spurn him into committing suicide. Instead, it gives Hodges (who had been contemplating killing himself) reason to live in tracking him down. Justified in that Brady is nuttier than a fruitcake.
  • Obfuscating Disability: Brady disguises himself as a bald man in a wheelchair in order to sneak explosives into the 'Round Here concert. He's apparently taking pages out of Norman Daniels' book.
  • Odd Friendship: Jerome Robinson and Holly Gibney quickly become this. He's a seventeen-year-old black teenage prodigy, she's a middle aged mentally unstable white woman, together they fight crime.
  • The Paranoiac: While not spelt out in the book, this is the condition Brady most likely suffers from. (1) He is unable to accept responsibility for anything and blames all of his failures on other people and circumstances beyond his control; (2) he is murderously vengeful and entertains vengeful fantasies; (3) he thinks that the world is a cruel and harsh place as evident by the fact that he could kill all those people without repercussions in the first place; he wants to commit another big crime but his failure to act is less out of conscience and more out of fear of getting caught; (4) he pretends to be a nice guy but is secretly filled with contempt for everyone around him; (5) he is Crazy-Prepared and a Control Freak when it comes to covering his tracks and hiding his various evil plans even though almost none of them amount to anything; (6) he is secretly grandiose and utterly self-centred, yet by his own standards he has amounted to nothing and is afraid of having to survive on his own with his mother, whom he hates but is neurotically dependant upon; and his final act of attempted mass murder is prompted by accidentally killing his mother, the police catching up to him, and feeling both that the jig is up and that he has nobody to depend on anymore.
  • The Password Is Always "Swordfish": the password to Deborah Ann's laptop is Honeyboy, her nickname for Brady, which would be easy to guess for anyone who knows her. However, because Hodges, Jerome and Holly don't know her, they still have a hard time figuring out her password. Hodges finally deduces the password when he sees the name written on the back of a photo of Deborah and Brady.
    • For that matter, Brady’s passwords to activate the lights in the basement, starting up his laptops, and, most importantly, deactivate the countdown of the suicide program, are all common words rather than complex letter-number combinations. Still a bit more secure than most examples since the passwords have to be spoken out loud and are protected with voice recognition, but anyone who can mimic Brady’s voice close enough can use them. Like Jerome.
  • Parental Incest: Brady's relationship with his mother has significant shades of this.
  • Police Are Useless:
    • In general throughout the book one can get this impression in regards to their inability to solve the Mercedes-murder. Downplayed however in that they do solve some other mayor cases (see Hero of Another Story above), and justified near the end because then they're distracted with the results of a major bust, leaving it up to the heroes to stop Brady on their own.
    • Also subverted when it comes to the circumstances surrounding Olivia Trelawney's suicide; her sister believes she was pushed into killing herself after finding a letter to her from the killer, but having tried to take it to the police has found that they just don't care on account of disliking Trelawney that much.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Brady takes issue with biracial relationships and black people in general. This personality trait, for better or for worse, is totally omitted in the show.
  • Pragmatic Villainy: Brady repeatedly entertains the idea of poisoning his ice cream supply, and has even researched it. But he refrains from actually doing it due to knowing he'd easily be pinpointed and arrested. For the same reason, when he's making a service call to Mrs. Rollins (a rich woman who frequently has trouble with her computer) and she leaves him alone in her house, he doesn't use the opportunity to steal her jewels, which are left out in the open and easy to take, knowing too well that he will be the most likely suspect when the theft is discovered.
  • Race Lift: Pete and Izzy, Bill's old police associates, are distinctly described as being white in the book. In the TV series, they're black and Latina respectively.
  • Retired Badass: Bill Hodges.
  • Reverse Whodunnit: We know very early on that Brady is Mr. Mercedes.
  • Sacrificial Lion: Janey.
  • Sequel Hook : The ending. Brady wakes up.
  • Smug Snake: Brady when everything is going his way, when his Mask of Sanity starts slipping he begins to lose his cool.
  • The Sociopath: Brady. He is a highly intelligent and manipulative man who feels no empathy toward others and no remorse for anything he does. While he is genuinely upset when he accidentally kills his mother, he feels no guilt at all over it and instead blames Hodges.
  • Stop Being Stereotypical: Jerome likes to periodically speak (and occasionally write) in a stereotypical Ebonics persona he dubs "Tyrone", much to the annoyance of others.
  • Murder by Mistake: Janey is killed in an attack meant for Bill.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome:
    • For all his badassery, Hodges eventually becomes overwhelmed by the stress of the situation, not helped by his weight problems, and suffers (but survives) a heart attack that forces him to back down from nabbing Hartsfield.
    • Also his off-the-books campaign leads to his being legally banned from ever acquiring an official private investigator's license.
    • The voice recognition Brady put on the basement lights and his laptop computers to make sure only he can give them the start-up commands is not 100% fault proof, since anyone whose voice is a close enough match to his (like Jerome) can fool it.
    • As mentioned in Pragmatic Villainy, Brady entertains various big crimes as an encore to his initial mass murder, but ends up dismissing them all because he realizes how easily he would be caught and because he lacks the means or opportunity to pull it off. He is also genuinely amazed that he was never caught for his first crime and spent weeks afterwards expecting the police to show up at his door.
  • Worst Aid: Deborah Ann's younger son Frankie chokes on an apple slice. Her almost hysterical behavior makes sense, even though her attempt at grabbing the slice only made the situation worse. And then Frankie is in a coma. He eventually wakes up, but is permanently brain-damaged.
  • Would Harm a Child: Brady has no problem with kids being killed in his attacks. He even contemplates killing children in his ice cream van route but decides that there is no way he would be able to get away with it. His final intended attack takes place at a boy band concert mostly attended by young girls.