Verdict: 2 Stars
Something strange is afoot with Stephen King…
First, he writes what is arguably one of his worst books yet. Completely devoid of supernatural story line (which I realize is not a requirement for a King novel, but it certainly does make it amazing), King’s approach to crime fiction is more about a deranged mass murderer than any kind of horror plot. I may be a little too old school-King fan to see the value in this story line, but humans killing other humans (specifically by running them over with a car before planning out an even bigger, farther reaching genocide-level event) is the stuff of news headlines, and I thought King was a little more creative than that.
The story, unfortunately, features characters that I wouldn’t want to ride on a crowded elevator with, let alone sit down and read about. His take on an African-American male character (complete with outrageously inappropriate dialogue) is practically offensive, and his detective who comes out of retirement specifically to stop this killer is a walking stereotype, the star of about thirty different cop movies. Throw in a romance element with the out-of-shape, sickly, nearly-suicidal Detective Hodges, and you’re sure to throw up in your mouth a few times.
I found the fact that King released an essay on gun control and then wrote a plot about a man who barrels into a crowd of people with his car to kill as many as possible a little too coincidental. It felt contrived. I’m certainly willing to believe I’m reading way too much into this, but the timing was odd, especially given the propensity of people on both sides of the gun control debate to say ridiculous things about other methods of killing people. Archie Bunker’s quote comes to mind: “Would you rather they was pushed outta windows?”
Sadly, long-time King fans may be disappointed in this title. I keep hoping it was a fun social experiment in which King pops up in two months and yells, “Surprise! My neighbor’s kid wrote this one, and I published it as mine to prove that the publishing industry will sell anything with my name on it! I could publish my grocery list and you people would line up to buy it!” (I’m not holding my breath for that scenario, however.)
There is a really strange phenomenon happening, though; the Amazon reviews for this book are incredibly unnerving. The one- and two-star reviews for this book are filled with paragraphs on what’s wrong with this title (and I’m relieved to see that these people had almost the same problems I had with it, minus the lazy “ripped from the headlines” quality of the story line and my deranged conspiracy theory about King simply highlighting other methods of killing people), but if you look at the five-star reviews, they are frighteningly identical. It’s like the Stepford Reviewers came along. If you want the hair on the back of your head to stand up, this is the only thing about this book that will do it.
Page after page of five-star reviews are filled with almost verbatim copycats. “Great book, can’t wait to read the next one, will definitely recommend it!” A number of them even casually mention, “I’ve already preordered his book that’s due out in November!” They tell nothing about the story line or plot, they’re almost all the same length, they’re all overexcited and peppered with exclamation points; even more interesting is the fact that they are all “Verified Purchase,” as if no one received a copy of the book as a gift or bought it at Walmart or even an airport bookstore. They look…planned. I’m in no position to throw around accusations about the reviews, but where were the die-hard fans who couldn’t wait to throw out spoiler alerts or drag out every nuance and every side character? No one wanted to expound on it for more than eight words?
Overall, the only thing about the book that left me questioning what I thought I knew and understood about human nature turned out to have nothing to do with the plot. Here’s hoping King returns to his glorious roots and gives us something worthy of his name.