Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Loneliness of the Long-Buried Runner

Finders Keepers by Stephen King (2015): The year is 2014 and the mismatched detectives of last year's Mr. Mercedes are back in a new mystery set three years after the conclusion of that novel -- and, as a sub-plot, there's also an odd continuation of the events of the previous novel that seems to be setting up the events of the third novel.  

Our protagonist, retired police detective Bill Hodges, continues to run his private detective agency with the help of hyper-intelligent, socially challenged Holly Gibney, with an occasional assist from now-college-student Jerome Robinson. But the scene of carnage that began Mr. Mercedes has helped deliver another case. I'll let you find out how. Suffice it to say that injury and the economic collapse of 2008 will soon put a young man on a collision course with an unusual treasure buried near his house since the late 1970's. And one collision will set off many others.

This is really an odd novel, at least for King. We spend a lot of time with that kid -- Pete Saubers -- and his economically wounded family. And we spend a lot of time learning about that treasure and the terrible man who buried it. But the money in that treasure -- about $30,000 in cash -- is the smallest portion of the booty. 

See, back in the late 1970's, a lousy guy in his early 20's was obsessed with a novelist named John Rothstein, who in King's world combines the attributes of John Updike, J.D. Salinger, and Philip Roth. In the 1950's and 1960's, Rothstein wrote a trilogy of novels subsequently dubbed The Runner Trilogy. Those novels featured a protagonist who seems to combine the personality traits of Updike's Rabbit Angstrom and Salinger's Holden Caulfield. 

One day in the 1960's, Rothstein stopped publishing and essentially became a hermit overnight on a farm outside a small New England town. Years later, a young reader (and aspiring writer) named Morris Bellamy went looking for Rothstein. He told his two accomplices that they were looking for money. But Bellamy was really looking for Rothstein's unpublished work. And he found it. And, while fleeing from the police, buried it. Arrested and jailed for more than 30 years for a crime unconnected to the Rothstein home invasion, Bellamy finally gets out and goes looking for that unpublished work. But it isn't there -- Pete Saubers dug it up.

Morris Bellamy is one of King's more interesting antagonists, a self-pitying fan who believes he has more right to his favourite author's work than that author. The characterizations of the other characters are all solid, especially of the slowly blossoming Holly Gibney and the intelligent, thoughtful Pete Saubers, whose love of reading is ignited by the contents of that box of treasure. There's not a huge amount of detection in this second Bill Hodges volume, but the material on Rothstein, and on the used book trade (seriously), is highly enjoyable. Recommended, though keep in mind this is a mystery-thriller (mostly) and not a horror novel.

1 comment:

  1. Gone are the days when SK wrote real horror novels. OK, though, for we have other talented writers.