Tracing Trails : End Of Watch
I think that one of the more interesting aspects of this trilogy is the fact that each book seems to have its own unique vibe and ecosystem. And in the third installment, we finally have more of what I would consider to be the classic Stephen King story type. I would still classify this as more of a thriller but with much more influence from the paranormal.
King wastes little time getting into the heart of this story. Bill Hodges is back. And so is the Mercedes Killer, albeit in not the form you might expect.
As the title of the book, as well as the various interpretations would suggest, this is a book that deals largely with endings and watching the world move on around you. I thought that King did a good job creating an atmosphere for this finale that was poignant and heartfelt. I thought there was genuine growth that I saw in the characters and in their relationships.
One storytelling device I have always found effective was the notion of a killer continuing to pursue previous victims. To create the notion that just because a certain character might survive, it doesn’t keep them safe in any other books yet to come. I thought it was powerful how the survivors of the original City Square incident continue to be victims of a killer whose capabilities are only growing. It’s incredibly evocative in the sense that for the lives of these characters, things don’t necessarily stop just because you’ve reached the last page of the book. Despite surviving a traumatic event, there is still plenty of potential for a person’s life to steer off the path and take a turn for the worse. Just because you experience a victory in the course of your struggles, it doesn’t mean that defeat still can’t be right around the corner. In a sense, looking at this from an existential perspective, the ultimate failure is out there waiting for all of us. Maybe that’s a bit too much of a downer for something as simple as a book review but I think that it is a point that is well underlined over the course of this story.
I could be projecting here but I feel like Stephen King at this stage of his life is just giving himself the freedom to really enjoy his writing. Not that he has ever allowed himself to be dictated to by the fans but it seems like he is writing stories for the sake of doing things he likes. And some may criticize him, arguing that his edge isn’t as sharp or his craft isn’t as refined. Personally, after so many books I think he’s earned the right to take things easy. It’s one thing to write a book of a thousand or more pages and take five years to do it when you’re in your thirties. But when you’re in your late sixties, having traversed the fires of drug and alcohol addiction and nearly lost your life at the hands of several tons of automotive steel, I think you’re entitled to scale down the professional obligations in your life. Take time for yourself and your family. We will continue to be eternally grateful for what we have gotten and might still get.
I’ve said this before in previous reviews, but I think Bill Hodges is a great kind of a hero, reminiscent somewhat of Ralph from Insomnia. Sometimes the heroics that are needed can be found in unlikely places. I’m less interested in the heroes that are so powerful, it’s almost like reading a comic book. Just like villains, heroes are made that much better if their strengths are balanced by more weaknesses. I’m never going to relate to a Bruce Wayne type character. But Hodges seems like the kind of person that I can understand. And ultimately in any suspenseful story, this is essential. And in End Of Watch specifically, Hodges has grown a lot since Mr. Mercedes. With the third book of the trilogy, I feel like the character actually has some complexities to him and that it isn’t just a case of the same personality being forced through a different plot as if it was a sausage factory. Even the more secondary characters of the book feel like they have grown and changed from the beginning of the series.
One other area that I wanted to point out that I appreciated and that would be the relationship between Hodges and his partner in his private detective agency, Holly. There is a trend anymore in film and books and television I have been increasingly annoyed with and that would be the incessant need to create romantic pairings between two characters. If there’s a male character paired up against a female character, it’s like the immediate assumption for many readers is to wait for the inevitable moment when they get it on. With End Of Watch, it would be an almost standard expectation that, despite the difference in age, Hodges and Holly would eventually cross over the divide between friendship and romance. And while King seemed to flirt with this at times, for the most part I felt like he maintained the relationship as something that was at least a little more unique, that went against the flow of what had to be many people’s expectations.
A trilogy of books is something that I don’t think I would have ever expected to come from Stephen King. Besides the Dark Tower series and the Talisman books, he seems to have established himself as a one-off author. There are plenty of references throughout his work but most of his them stand tall on their own. It was cool to see him take on the challenge of telling a story on this level and in this format and I think that for the most part he was successful.
On a personal note, I should mention that on the publicity tour for this book, I finally got to achieve two things that had been a dream of mine for a long time. First, I got to see Stephen King live and in person. He did a tour of smaller venues, hitting not necessarily the bigger cities and I was overjoyed earlier in the year to see that he would be coming to Iowa City, my home town. The event was at a local theater that had also been a huge part of my childhood. In fact, I think I saw Pet Semetary in that theater. The evening was fantastic and it was a thrill to see him talking about his craft. One story I have held on to in particular is how he described the existence of three Stephen Kings. The first is the guy who lounges around the house, watching Red Sox games and taking out garbage when asked. Then there’s the version who goes out on the road to do appearances and speaking engagements. He commented that his kids used to describe this as him going on the road to “be Stephen King”. And finally, there’s writer Stephen King, the dark presence that he leaves behind in the shed out back, the one who rises to the surface to pen so many books that we have come to love.
I also received a hard-back edition of End Of Watch as a part of the cost of my ticket. King wasn’t doing a book signing at the events, I suspect because it’s much harder for him to stay comfortable for long stretches after his accident. But there were several hundred autographed editions of the book mixed in with the stacks so as I departed the theater and was given my book, I found that I had reached the second dream in about as many hours.
I had an autographed Stephen King book.
My name is Chad Clark and I am proud to be a Constant Reader.
For more Stephen King reviews, check out Tracing The Trails, a blog dedicated to his collected works.
Chad A. Clark is an author of horror and science fiction. For more information on his literary universe, check out his official website or take a peek at his Amazon author page