Book review: Finders Keepers by Stephen King - thrill of the chase
Writers are obsessed with other writers. So many of the greats have, somewhere in their oeuvre, at least one novel in which an author is either writing a book, or is struggling with writer's block.
For Stephen King, it is a rich vein he has mined on more than one occasion. And he returns to it in the follow-up to Mr Mercedes, last year's crime thriller. In that book, retired detective Bill Hodges chased down murderous psychopath Brady Hartsfield, leaving him in a coma.
By the time this sequel begins, Hodges and his associates have formed the titular investigation agency, which eschews criminal cases in favour of mysteries that will never involve the police. It is the thrill of the chase King wants to capture, rather than the nitty-gritty of crime-scene dusting.
Finders Keepers introduces us to Morris Bellamy, a big fan of (invented) novelist John Rothstein. This American literary royalty is a towering amalgam of Roth, Salinger and Updike. His fame comes from his Runner books, a trilogy that tips its hat to Updike's Rabbit novels.
But Morris - who is nursing a burgeoning tendency towards psychopathy - hates the third novel. He has heard rumours that Rothstein has written other books, and keeps them in a vault at his home. Wanting to read them, Morris does the natural thing: he murders his hero and steals the first drafts, burying them under a tree near his home until the heat of the crime dies down. When Morris goes to prison for an unrelated (and truly heinous) crime, the notebooks are abandoned to rot.
Forty years later, they're found by Pete Saubers, a teenager who now lives in Morris' old house, along with the money Morris also stole from Rothstein's vault. Pete puts the money to good use, saving his family from financial strife (caused, in a delicious chain of consequence, by the opening events of Mr Mercedes); he also falls in literary love with the writer who created the notebooks.
Eventually Morris gets out of prison - and all he has been dreaming of during his incarceration is getting his hands on those notebooks. Cue: the chase.
Structurally, the book is an almost constant building up of momentum, growing in pace and tension until it finally explodes. That much is similar to Mr Mercedes. But, unlike that book, this is very much not Hodges' novel. He doesn't appear until near the halfway point, like some detective ex-machina. By the book's close, it's clear he isn't the focus of this series: that honour belongs to the comatose Brady.
These two novels are about repercussions: the effects of Brady's actions, of the recession, of injury and illness, of retirement. They are about leaving the past behind, and yet how it will always come back to haunt you.
Which brings us back to the theme of writers. Morris wants to read Rothstein's unpublished work in order to discover that the book he dislikes is an aberration. Morris may not have developed, but writers do, and we have to go with them, to see where they'll take us.
That's the greatest joy of this book: watching as King still makes it all seem so effortless, and 55 novels in, manages to thrill with every page.
Finders Keepers by Stephen King (Scribner)