When I started reading this, the third and final book in the trilogy that started with the horrific mass murder in Mr. Mercedes, I started conjuring up possible endings. By about halfway through, I'd narrowed them down to the one with the most macabre twist, trying, I suppose, to get one up on the author, who's the master of grisly and ghastly. Had I bet money, though, I'd have lost; I won't exactly call it a happy ending, but it's a fitting conclusion and one that won't keep me up at night.
Wish I could say the same for the rest of the book.
This one begins as Brady Hartsfield, the killer who kicked off the trilogy by driving a Mercedes into a crowd, is in his fifth year at a brain injury clinic. He's in a vegetative state from which he's not expected to recover. But is it possible there's an active brain behind his blank stare? Well of course, silly - this is a Stephen King novel. In fact, Hartsfield has acquired powers that make him incredibly dangerous even from a wheelchair in a locked hospital room.
Retired detective Bill Hodges's partner Holly Gibney messed up Hartsfield's brain in the second book, Finders Keepers, with mighty whack to his head. Hodges, though, has believed almost from the first day of the hospital confinement that Hartsfield is "in there" - faking it to avoid being declared competent to stand trial. For a long time, he visited the killer, taunting him and hoping for some kind of reaction. Finally, he gave up, staying busy with his investigation firm. But now, he and Holly are called to the scene of a suicide - and it turns out the victim had ties to the Mercedes Massacre six years earlier.
Convinced that Hartsfield is somehow bringing diabolical plans to life from his hospital room, Hodges, Gibney and their young friends Jerome Robinson and his teenage sister Barbara set out to deduce how he's doing it (no one in the police department believes Hartsfield is capable of anything except drooling, so they're unwilling to help). What Hodges and Gibney learn stretches the limits of credulity, I admit - but it's also scary as all get-out (hey, didn't I mention this is a Stephen King novel)?
This book stands on its own, I think, but I'm sure I got more out of it because I'd read the other two and highly recommend that approach to others. Just like this book, both of those earned high marks from me.
End of Watch by Stephen King (Scribner, June 2016); 448 pp.