If you're looking to make a fairly sure bet on a horse, it's a good idea to put your money on one that has performed well in previous races. If you're a writer looking for another winning book, the principle is the same: Look to your previous successes. So it is with this one, where Mr. Mercedes meets Misery.
Well-known author John Rothstein created a wildly popular nonconformist character named Jimmy Gold who, in the final book - written years ago - "sells out" for an establishment career in advertising. This puts an already over-the-edge guy name Morris Bellamy so much "misery" that he robs and murders the elderly writer. In so doing, Morris discovers not only money in the safe, but also a pile of notebooks filled with, presumably, at least one more unpublished Gold novel. And who should end up involved in tracking down the killer but three of the characters who did the same back when the driver of a Mercedes plowed through a crowd of job-seekers at the City Center Massacre (retired police officer Bill Hodges, Holly and Jerome).
I should note that this book stands alone, but there are enough references to Mr. Mercedes that it's probably a good idea to read it first if you haven't already. I did - giving that one 5 stars - but long enough ago that I didn't even remember the names of the three "heroes" and even less about their actions in that story.
Those characters don't show up anywhere near the beginning here, though. After Morris kills Rothstein and steals the loot, he hides it in an old trunk that he buries under the roots of a tree near the house in which he grew up. Then, he ends up in jail for many years after being convicted of an entirely different crime. Meanwhile, the trunk and its contents are discovered by young Peter Saubers, who now lives with his mother, father and sister in Morris's old house. Since his parents desperately need money (his father was seriously injured when that Mercedes plowed through the crowd), Pete decides to surreptitiously mail the $20,000 or so he found to them in installments. Along the way, the young man also realizes that the old notebooks that were in the trunk may be worth far more than the cash.
Of course, what can go wrong will, and in this case, it's that Morris gets an early release after 35 years in prison - and all he can think about is getting his hands on the notebooks over which he's obsessed for all those years. In fact, they're far more important than the money; could it be that author Rothstein has made Gold see the light and return to his wild-child ways, thus, in Morris's eyes, righting an egregious wrong?
But alas, once Morris digs up the old trunk, it's empty. From that point on, it's a race to see how it all plays out as Morris follows the trail, Pete tries to keep himself under the radar and his family safe and Hodges and his two young friends have a bumpy ride to the rescue. All the characters are well developed as are the details of how their lives intersect (sometimes in almost too much of a coincidence), but I must say I wasn't all that thrilled with the teenage Pete (nor, for that matter, his younger sister). I know they had to fend for themselves amid the trials and tribulations of their parents and are quite intelligent, but in many ways they seemed grown up far beyond their years - hence my actual rating of 4.5 stars even though I thoroughly enjoyed the book.
Finders Keepers by Stephen King (Scribner, June 2015); 448 pp.