Title: End of Watch
Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
It’s not quite believable. It’s not quite unreadable either. So, if you are an ardent fan of detective fiction, suspend disbelief and dive into the pages of End of Watch, the third – and needless to say, last – novel in the famous Mr. Mercedes trilogy by Stephen King featuring retired detective Kermit William (Bill) Hodges. And be prepared to traverse the misty, foggy grey realms where the author explores the sort of other worldly powers of the mind: to not only control matter, but in many senses go beyond the restrictions posed by the material and physical world.
The first novel in the trilogy sets the stage with the introduction to all the major and minor characters. The main ones being Villain No. 1 – and it is no mystery or secret who it is; so don’t worry I am not giving anything away — Brady Hartsfield; Hero No. 1 Bill Hodges and Hodges’ helpers/assistants Holly and Jerome (Jerry).
Hodges, a paunchy, divorced retired detective is has a touch of the suicidal blues immediately post his retirement party. Holly is a middle aged Caucasian female, neurotic and with severe personality problems, but with several hidden talents including – for someone of her age – a facility with the digital terrain; while Jerry is a handsome, young, intelligent black person, who transitions from being a teenager to a young adult over the three novels, the all American “clean and fresh” youth. One must say that the triumvirate of do-gooders work well together and are fairly reader friendly – that is easy for the reader to like.
Mr. Mercedes, the first of the three novels, ends with Brady’s incarceration in the in a hospital for brain injury. The action of End of Watch begins in Brady’s Room 217 of the Lakes Region Traumatic Brain Injury Clinic (the second novel while it features Brady in a kind of cameo role has nothing really to do with him in terms of plot line).
The story of End of Watch is built around Brady’s ability to use his brain and mental powers to transcend his physical limitations, to bend others to his will and to make them the instruments and weapons of his machinations.
Ostensibly in a fugue state and unable to walk or talk – and some opine, even to think – Brady, bound to his room, continues to hatch his twisted devious plots to wreak havoc upon the world around him while at the same time extract his revenge upon Bill Hodges whom he blames for thwarting his plans some six years previously and for his ending up being in many ways a useless physical wreck.
Brady’s plots cover a gamut of activity – from rattling the window blinds to scare the daylights out of nurses to hypnotising people through remote control to commit suicide and finally peaking in taking over other people’s bodies to “personally”, so to say, continue his evil rampage.
End of Watch is a fairly typical American novel of the times: it has bad men doing bad things just coz they are bad. Or twisted. And it does seem that it takes very little for the guys there to turn into criminals. The book is a fairly linear narration of the story, such as it is. So to that extent there is very little of the “mystery” element. There are of course some unknowns, mainly about how the villain is to meet his end. And yet when the book culminates in the climax, it leaves many questions unanswered – for the kind of areas it delves into, largely paranormal. To our mind, Brady by this time has become indestructible so how can “he” bring to an end?
Don’t mistake me, End of Watch is not a story about ghosts, spooks, aliens or some such supernatural elements. But King does extend current scientific thought about the powers of the mind, maybe not all the way into the realm of full blown science fiction, but with just a wee touch of it. That is poetic or literary licence: to etch out and present new postulations.
Yet, one of the problems of the book is that it cannot take the basic premise to the heights which would make one sit up and take notice, get electrified and totally carried away. Like an Isaac Asimov or an Arthur C. Clarke was able to do. Neither can it explore the grey world with as deft a touch to make it truly thought provoking like great writers such as Somerset Maugham or Roald Dahl or even our own Ruskin Bond have done.
At the end of the day, End of Watch remains a competent piece of American detective fiction. Not great writing, not much detecting. But fairly racy, fairly absorbing, raising some goosebumps along the way, and capable of threading its way to the top of the charts.
And who knows? The incredulity one feels today at the stuff that the novel is made up of, may yet change to belief if it becomes the reality of tomorrow. Now that is a thought to be spooked about.