Stephen King: News from the Dead Zone #191 — Review: 'End of Watch'

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End of Watch by Stephen King
Scribner (June 7, 2016)
448 pages; $18.00 hardcover; $14.99 e-book
Reviewed by Bev Vincent

End_of_Watch_coverShortly after the publication of Mr. Mercedes, Stephen King announced that the book was the first in a trilogy that would be connected by the City Center Massacre (in which a psycho named Brady Hartsfield stole a Mercedes and plowed into a crowd of people who were waiting in line at a job fair in a struggling Mid-western city).

Hartsfield got away with that crime but was—during the commission of an even more audacious and nefarious scheme—eventually brought to justice by a rag-tag group led by retired police detective Bill Hodges. Hartsfield was effectively taken off the playing board at the conclusion of Mr. Mercedes but, at the end of the second book, Finders Keepers, King hinted strongly that this villain would be back, front and center, for the finale. He also suggested that the third book would be closer to a traditional King novel, by which I mean it might have supernatural elements.

The phrase “End of Watch” will be familiar to anyone with more than a passing knowledge of police dramas. In one context, it refers to the day when a cop retires. On another, more ominous level, it refers to a cop killed in the line of duty. Bill Hodges has already experienced the first usage—the question the title of the third book poses is whether he will experience the other.Continue Reading

Stephen King: News from the Dead Zone #179

Featured review: Finders Keepers

Lisey Landon had a word for the people who clamored for the fragments, snippets and memorabilia of her dead husband’s literary estate: Incunks. Is there is a similar word for those who seek the remnants of a living (though perhaps inactive) author?

Finders_Keepers_2015Morris Bellamy is obsessed with John Rothstein, a writer cut from the same cloth as J.D. Salinger. Rothstein withdrew from the world in 1960, living in New Hampshire a mile from his nearest neighbor. Now almost eighty, he is most famous for a trilogy featuring protagonist Jimmy Gold.

Bellamy has read the first two books, The Runner and The Runner Sees Action, countless times, but the final book only once, so much does he loathe the fate that befell a character who is more alive to him than most real people. He thinks Rothstein sold out, made Gold go establishment in The Runner Slows Down (the series titles are reminiscent of John Updike), where Gold winds up married with kids and working in advertising.

In 1978, convinced that Rothstein must have continued writing in the two decades since his last story appeared in The New Yorker, Bellamy enlists the help of two clueless accomplices and invades Rothstein’s farmhouse. They uncover wads of cash and, more importantly to Bellamy, scores and scores of ledgers containing Rothstein’s handwriting.

By all rights, Bellamy should have been caught soon after the robbery, but, like Brady Hartsfield in Mr. Mercedes, luck is on Bellamy’s side. Sort of. He isn’t arrested because of this incident but rather because of something that happens subsequently. His Achilles’ heel is that he can’t handle being made to feel stupid. He’d already spent nine months in juvenile detention after a drunken rampage sparked by an argument with his mother over the Rothstein novels. He blames her for his incarceration—he’s never takes responsibility for his own actions. This time, his drunken misadventures end in a far worse outcome and he is sentenced to life in prison—before he has the chance to savor the spoils of his robbery.

Though nominally a sequel, Finders Keepers works perfectly well as a standalone novel. It intersects with Mr. Mercedes via the City Center Massacre, where Hartsfield killed several people and maimed others with a stolen Mercedes. In the second book of a proposed trilogy, that incident is represented by the Saubers, a family who fell on hard times during the economic downturn. Tom Saubers was waiting in line at the job fair that fateful day. He survived, but was seriously injured and ends up hooked on painkillers during his rehabilitation. There are frequent loud arguments with his wife, mostly over money.

Then thirteen year old Pete Saubers stumbles upon a buried treasure. Not only does the trunk he discovers in a vacant lot near his house (the same one Morris Bellamy grew up in) contain stacks of cash, it also holds intriguing, handwritten ledgers. At the time, Pete has no idea who John Rothstein is, but over the following years he becomes familiar with the man’s work.

In Pete’s mind, this is a case of “finders keepers,” but if he gives the money to his parents, they’ll want to report it to the cops. So, he mails them $500 each month anonymously. The Saubers convince themselves it’s further compensation for Tom’s injuries. It won’t make them wealthy, but it’s enough to silence the worst of the arguments. Pete’s discovery represents the turning point for his family.

But the money runs out four years later.

By then, Pete understands the true value of the ledgers, which contain poems, short stories and two unpublished Jimmy Gold novels that complete the cycle. Liquidating them is a problem, especially for a high school sophomore. If he turns them in, he won’t get anything more than a pat on the back, and he wants to raise enough money so his younger sister, Tina, can go to private school. She’s smart, but falling through the cracks at public school. He’s forced to seek the help of a shady individual, which sets into motion a catastrophic sequence of events that jeopardizes his entire family.

For the first 150 pages, the story bounces around between 1978 and 2009-2013, relating incidents in Bellamy’s and the Saubers’ lives. Then Det/Ret Bill Hodges gets involved and the pace of the novel accelerates to breakneck speed, with the second half covering only a few days.

The novel is dedicated to John D. MacDonald, who wrote the introduction to Night Shift and penned a series featuring Travis McGee[1]. McGee helped people who had things stolen from them in a way that precluded legal recourse. For his services, he kept fifty percent of whatever he recovered. Half of something was better than nothing, he reasoned.

Crossovers

As with Mr. Mercedes, Finders Keepers is set in the “real world,” where Stephen King is a person who writes books, movies are adapted from them and popular tropes have entered the cultural awareness. And yet, it can’t be a coincidence that Brady Hartsfield resides in Room 217 of the Traumatic Brain Injury Clinic. Can it?

Can it?

Hodges, slimmer and healthier than when he first retired, is in a similar business, a company called Finders Keepers he formed after he wriggled out of the trouble he found himself in because of his rogue investigation into the Mercedes Killer case four years earlier. When first seen in 2014, he’s repossessing a stolen Lear Jet from a con man. His fee isn’t half of the jet’s value, but it’s a tidy sum nonetheless. Plus, he brings the culprit to justice and puts a feather in his former partner’s hat, another move toward reconciling their rocky relationship.

Holly Gibney, the awkward and damaged woman who emerged to the forefront in Mr. Mercedes, is now Hodges’ assistant. She runs the office, keeps the files and performs computer research to help Hodges track his targets. She’s not completely healed—she still has numerous quirks—but her self-confidence has been boosted by recent experiences.

Hodges’ other “irregular,” Jerome Robinson, is at Harvard. His younger sister Barbara happens to be good friends with Pete Saubers’ sister, which is how Hodges gets involved. The disreputable bookstore owner Pete consults about the manuscripts puts the teenager in a difficult spot. The stress takes a toll on him and Tina notices the change in her brother’s behavior. However, Pete rebuff’s Hodges’ offer of assistance.

Morris Bellamy is paroled from prison after nearly four decades. Finally given a chance to recover the ledgers, he is incensed to discover that someone has beaten him to the punch. He has a suspect, though: the one person who knew about them when he was arrested. This puts him on a collision course with Pete Saubers and, ultimately, with Bill Hodges. Hodges’ investigation isn’t really the typical stuff of a detective novel—with the assistance of Jerome and Holly, they try to help Pete out of his predicament without understanding until late in the game exactly who is after him or why.

In the novel, King discusses the world of rare books and literature. He talks about natural selection in terms of which authors’ works survive over the decades and which don’t. The power of a story to captivate plays an important part in the novel’s resolution, as does the question of which is more important: the writing or the writer. Bellamy and Annie Wilkes share a common belief that their favorite authors owe them something when a series of books takes a direction they don’t like.

At times, Finders Keepers enters Kate Atkinson territory. Coincidence (or co-inky-dink, as one character puts it) plays a part in the proceedings. Pete finds Bellamy’s stash shortly after the Emergency Fund for victims of the City Center Massacre runs out. He approaches the bookseller with the ledgers barely a week before Bellamy goes looking for them. And Bellamy gets closer to the ledgers than he could possibly imagine due to a coincidence of geography.

And what of Brady Hartsfield? At the conclusion of Mr. Mercedes, King hinted that we hadn’t seen the last of him. That despite the grievous injury he received at the hands of Holly and Hodges’ happy slapper, there was still some life left in the young psychopath. Hartsfield is Hodges’ obsession. The retired detective wonders if he’s faking his condition, so he visits him frequently to try to catch him out. In the final pages of Finders Keepers, King lays the groundwork for the third book in the series, tentatively titled The Suicide Prince. It seems that Hodges is in for a rematch with his old nemesis.


[1] Another MacDonald novel, The Executioners, the inspiration for the movies Cape Fear, makes a cameo appearance in Finders Keepers in much the same way that a couple of King novels cameoed in Travis McGee novels

Stephen King: News from the Dead Zone #178

Next up from Stephen King is Finders Keepers, which will be out on June 2. There’s an excerpt in the May 15 issue of Entertainment Weekly (also online). Scribner and King’s office are running a contest for a signed copy of the book, as well as audio and hardcover editions. The early reviews (you can read Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, Library Journal and Booklist reviews here) have been very good. Stay tuned for my review very soon.

At a recent event, King said he was hard at work on the third volume in the series, which has the working title The Suicide Prince. The previous book, Mr. Mercedes, won the Edgar Award for best novel. King was present to accept it, as he was also at the banquet to present the Ellery Queen Award to Charles Ardai, editor and founder, Hard Case Crime.

On November 3, we’ll get King’s next collection, The Bazaar of Bad Dreams. King will introduce each of the eighteen stories and two poems, providing “autobiographical comments on when, why and how he came to write it”, as well as “the origins and motivation of each story.” The contents are: “Mile 81,” “Premium Harmony ,” “Batman and Robin Have an Altercation,” “The Dune,” “Bad Little Kid,” “A Death,” “The Bone Church,” “Morality,” “Afterlife,” “Ur,” “Herman Wouk is Still Alive,” “Under the Weather,” “Blockade Billy,” “Mister Yummy,” “Tommy,” “The Little Green God of Agony,” “That Bus is Another World,” “Obits,” “Drunken Fireworks,” and “Summer Thunder.” The cover is being gradually revealed at King’s official website.

Several of these stories are quite rare or haven’t been generally available. “Bad Little Kid,” for example, was only released in French and German previously. A few were only available electronically, and “Under the Weather” only appeared in the paperback edition of Full Dark, No Stars. A few of the stories are brand new. Among this number is “Drunken Fireworks,” which will be published as an audiobook read by Maine humorist Tim Sample on June 30. The story will also stream in its entirety on select CBS radio stations nationwide on July 2nd, in keeping with its Fourth of July theme.

Other publication news

Hard Case Crime has announced they will publish an illustrated edition of Joyland this September, featuring cover artwork by Glen Orbik, a map of Joyland illustrated by Susan Hunt Yule and more than twenty interior illustrations by Robert McGinnis, Mark Summers and Pat Kinsella. Note that this is not a limited edition. Hard Case Crime will publish as many copies as are needed to satisfy demand for the book. In related, sadder news, Orbik died recently at the age of 52 from cancer.

The Shining: Studies in the Horror Film is now available for pre-order from Centipede Press. This 752-page book, edited by Danel Olson, features a new introduction by Academy-Award winning director Lee Unkrich, and nearly two dozen new interviews with cast and crew members, reprint interviews, and a handful of excellent essays (plus one from yours truly). The book also features an amazing assortment of behind the scenes photographs, most never before published, crisp frame enlargements from the film, and a special gallery of poster artwork inspired by the movie. The book will be shipping later this month.

Movie news:

  • This is unexpected and welcome news: Sony Pictures has teamed with MRC to co-finance the Dark Tower adaptation. Sony will distribute what is planned to be the first in a series of movies. A complementary TV series is also being developed by MRC. The new script is primarily drawn from The Gunslinger and the relationship between Roland and Jake, using a brand new script co-written by Akiva Goldsman and Jeff Pinkner. No director has been attached yet, but it’s the most promising news in forever.
  • Will Poulter (We’re the Millers) is in negotiations to play Pennywise in the upcoming two-part movie adaptation of It directed by Cary Fukunaga.
  • The principle cast for 11/22/63 (Hulu, early 2016) has been announced: James Franco (Jake Epping), Chris Cooper (Al Templeton), Sarah Gadon (Sadie Dunhill), Cherry Jones (Marguerite Oswald), Daniel Webber (Lee Harvey Oswald),  George MacKay (Bill Turcotte), Lucy Fry (Marina Oswald), and Leon Rippy (Harry Dunning). Academy Award winner Kevin Macdonald will direct and executive produce the first two hours of the nine-hour event series.
  • Brad Pitt’s  Plan B has optioned feature rights to The Jaunt. The company has attached Andy Muschietti and Barbara Muschietti, the duo behind the 2013 horror film Mama.
  • Vincenzo Natali (Cube) is adapting “In the Tall Grass,” the novella cowritten by King and Joe Hill. Principal photography is scheduled for September in the Toronto area.

Stephen King: News from the Dead Zone #176

It’s not every day that you get a brand new short story from Stephen King for free, right? Well, today is just one of those days. “A Death” will appear in print in the March 9 issue of The New Yorker, but the story is online right now. There’s also a brief Q&A with King on the New Yorker website.

“A Death” will be included in The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, King’s next collection, due out in November. Among the stories we expect to see in that collection are “Ur” and “Bad Little Kid,” which will be appearing in English for the first time anywhere. (I reviewed it for Fearnet last year.)

The forthcoming story “Drunken Fireworks,” which will be released in audio on June 30th, will also be in Bazaar.  Here’s the publisher’s description: “In this new tour-de-force from Stephen King—unavailable in print or any other format—a salt-of-the-earth Maine native recounts how a friendly annual summer fireworks show rivalry with his neighbor across the lake gradually spirals out of control…with explosive results!”

Before that collection, though, we’ll get Finders Keepers on June 2, the follow-up to Mr. Mercedes. The audio version will once again be read by Will Patton. Here is the publisher’s copy for the novel:

“Wake up, genius.” So begins King’s instantly riveting story about a vengeful reader. The genius is John Rothstein, a Salinger-like icon who created a famous character, Jimmy Gold, but who hasn’t published a book for decades. Morris Bellamy is livid, not just because Rothstein has stopped providing books, but because the nonconformist Jimmy Gold has sold out for a career in advertising. Morris kills Rothstein and empties his safe of cash, yes, but the real treasure is a trove of notebooks containing at least one more Gold novel.

Morris hides the money and the notebooks, and then he is locked away for another crime. Decades later, a boy named Pete Sauberg finds the treasure, and now it is Pete and his family that Bill Hodges, Holly Gibney, and Jerome Robinson must rescue from the ever-more deranged and vengeful Morris when he’s released from prison after thirty-five years.

Not since Misery has King played with the notion of a reader whose obsession with a writer gets dangerous. Finders Keepers is spectacular, heart-pounding suspense, but it is also King writing about how literature shapes a life—for good, for bad, forever.finders_keepers_us_hardcover_full_small

The Marvel graphic novel adaptation of The Drawing of the Three continues with the release of House of Cards #1 on March 24.

Adaptation news:

  • Under the Dome kicks off its third season with a two-hour premiere June 25. Marg Helgenberger has joined the cast for an extended story arc.
  • Sonar Entertainment will develop Mr. Mercedes as a limited series for television. David E. Kelley (Boston Legal, Ally McBeal, The Practice) is attached to write the script and Jack Bender (Lost) will direct.
  • James Franco has been cast as Jake Epping for 11/22/63, which will be a 9-hour series on Hulu.
  • Clarius Entertainment has acquired US rights to Cell, which was produced by Benaroya Pictures and The Genre Company. The plan is to release it theatrically later this year.
  • True Detective director Cary Fukunaga is on board for a new adaptation of It. At Sundance in February, he was a little vague, saying, “If that movie happens, it will be my first movie made in America.” He says he’s only thought about casting for Pennywise (without revealing who). The kids will mostly be unknowns, he says. He confirmed that the first movie will focus on the kids and a later film will do the adult story. He does not yet have a script for the second film.

Here is  King’s review of Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story, by Rick Bragg from the NY Times.

Recent interviews and public appearances:

Stephen King: News from the Dead Zone #175

I suppose everyone’s busy reading or listening to Revival, right? The book has been out for a week now, and King has wrapped up his six-city tour in support of the novel. He also made a couple of media appearances:

Excerpts from the audio version, read by David Morse, are being released over the next seven weeks at Experience Revival.

King talked about a few projects he might like to work on in the future. He’s interested in returning to the Dark Tower someday, probably to tackle The Battle of Jericho Hill. He wants to write a story about Franny falling down a well after she and Stu head for Maine. And he hopes to work with Peter Straub on a third book about Jack Sawyer. This one garnered the most interest, especially after a photo emerged of the two of them together following King’s signing in New York. However, his administrative assistant indicated that this won’t necessarily happen soon, despite intentions. Read her statement here.

I hope you’re checking out the journey Rich Chizmar is taking at Stephen King Revisited. Starting a couple of weeks ago, he is reading all of King’s books in publication order, including collections, Bachman books and non-fiction. At a pace of 2-3 books per month, we estimate this endeavor will take around two years. I’m along for the ride, writing historical background essays for each book. There are also guest essayists who’ll be appearing from time to time. For example, Ray Garton wrote about Carrie. This week we took on book #2: ‘Salem’s Lot. My essay went up yesterday and Rich’s today. Check ’em out and come on this incredible journey with us.

We now have the title for King’s next story collection: The Bazaar of Bad Dreams will contain twenty stories (not yet identified), and will be published by Scribner in November 2015.

Before that, though, on June 2, 2015, we’ll have Finders Keepers, the follow-up to Mr. Mercedes. Today, Scribner released the book’s description. It’s fairly detailed, so if you want to read the book unspoiled, you might want to skip it!

“Wake up, genius.” So begins King’s instantly riveting story about a vengeful reader. The genius is John Rothstein, a Salinger-like icon who created a famous character, Jimmy Gold, but who hasn’t published a book for decades. Morris Bellamy is livid, not just because Rothstein has stopped providing books, but because the nonconformist Jimmy Gold has sold out for a career in advertising. Morris kills Rothstein and empties his safe of cash, yes, but the real treasure is a trove of notebooks containing at least one more Gold novel.

Morris hides the money and the notebooks, and then he is locked away for another crime. Decades later, a boy named Pete Sauberg finds the treasure, and now it is Pete and his family that Bill Hodges, Holly Gibney, and Jerome Robinson must rescue from the ever-more deranged and vengeful Morris when he’s released from prison after thirty-five years.

Not since Misery has King played with the notion of a reader whose obsession with a writer gets dangerous. Finders Keepers is spectacular, heart-pounding suspense, but it is also King writing about how literature shapes a life—for good, for bad, forever.

ICYMI, here’s King’s interview from Rolling Stone. There’s also a companion article: The World of Stephen King, A to Z.

Did you know that the revised and updated edition of The Illustrated  Stephen King Trivia Book is now available as an eBook?

Stephen King: News from the Dead Zone #166

Mr. Mercedes debuted in the #1 position on the Publishers Weekly hardcover fiction list and #2 on USA Today’s mixed fiction list (which includes paperbacks). There is a lot of associational material to explore at King’s official website. For example, there’s The Basement, an interactive adventure that takes you into Brady’s domain, where you can delve into the things that are stored on his array of PCs. For some clues on how to get started, it helps to watch the video of Brady’s letter to Detective Hodges. There’s also a book trailer, a saucy TV commercial, an excerpt from the audio book, some “merch” at the Cafe Press store, and a letter from KingTemple Hill and Media Rights Capital have acquired the movie rights to the novel. King talks about the real-life incident that inspired the novel here, but to-date he has only given one interview. There’s also a collection of many of the reviews on his site, and I have another collection of reviews here.

Hodder & Stoughton also produced a whimsical series of promos in which the villain of Mr. Mercedes is introduced by the likes of Annie Wilkes, Carrie White, Andy Dufresne, Pennywise and Danny Torrance.

The big news, of course, is the fact that Mr. Mercedes is the first book in a proposed trilogy. King has already finished the first draft of the second novel, which will be called Finders Keepers. The tentative publication date is sometime in the first half of 2015. King says that the three books “seem to revolve around the City Center Massacre that opens Mr. Mercedes.”

Before we get to Finders Keepers, though, we have Revival, which comes out in November. The newly released paperback edition of Doctor Sleep contains an eight-page excerpt of that novel. And there is a good possibility of a collection in late 2015, bringing together all of the recent short story appearances, including some of those that you can find on my list here. No word yet on whether there will be any brand new stories in the collection. The third book in the Mr. Mercedes trilogy will presumably be out in 2016. I don’t think we’ve known King’s publication schedule so far in advance since 1986-7, when we knew about the next four books he planned to publish.

Big news for people who haven’t had a chance to see Ghost Brothers of Darkland County yet. The musical play will go on tour this fall, with dates in Orono, Toronto, Philadelphia, Durham, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Red Bank, N.J., Portland, ME, Boston, Providence, New York, Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, Denver, Phoenix, Los Angeles and San Francisco in November and December. See the announcement here.

Just a few weeks until the return of Under the Dome, with the first episode scripted by King. You can see a 30-second clip of King reading the opening section of the episode. On June 23, CBS will run Inside Chester’s Mill, a one-hour special that features highlights from last season and new interviews with the cast and executive producers. In addition, the special will have an advance sneak peek at the season two premiere. The second season will be missing its original showrunner and executive producer Brian K. Vaughan.

Although it had a premiere in New York in April, there’s been very little news about the fate of the film version of A Good Marriage. Last week, though, it was announced that Screen Media Films acquired North American rights to the film, with plans to distribute it in early October, with a nationwide theatrical release accompanied by a day-and-date VOD platform release. “I’m delighted that A Good Marriage is going to be available to the movie going public very soon, and hope we can scare the hell out of millions of people,” King said. “To me, that’s always an exciting prospect.”

Josh Boone, currently riding high with his film adaptation of The Fault in Our Stars, promises a three-hour R-rated single film adaptation of The Stand with “an amazing A-list cast across the board…Every single one of those characters will be somebody you recognize and somebody you relate to. And it’s gonna be awesome.” The only person named as a potential cast member is Nat Wolff. Of course, Boone isn’t the first director to try to get a grip on this remake.

In other movie news, the story that is thus far only available in French and German, Bad Little Kid, has been optioned by Laurent Bouzereau , who wrote and directed the 2011 TCM film A Night at the Movies: The Horrors of Stephen King, which featured King discussing horror films and their popularity with moviegoers.

Oculus and Somnia director Mike Flanagan has committed todirect Gerald’s Game. Flanagan wrote the script with his writing partner Jeff Howard. There’s also an unconfirmed rumor that Gravity director director Alfonso has been approached to direct a prequel to The Shining titled The Overlook Hotel.

TNT is developing  a TV series called The Shop, billed as a sequel to Firestarter. The drama centers on the insidious agency responsible for kidnapping and attempting to exploit the psychokinetic powers of a young girl named Charlie McGee in the original story. Now it’s 20 years later and Charlie has been tracked down by one of The Shop’s former members, Henry Talbot, who introduces her to a group of people with their own unique abilities. From the announcement: “It turns out The Shop is very much alive, bigger and badder than ever, and its dark experiments are unleashing terrifying new entities on the world. It’s now up to Talbot, Charlie and the rest of the team to find The Shop and destroy it for good.”

Here’s a fun dialog between King and Damon Lindelof, as captured by Entertainment Weekly.

The Marvel graphic novel adaptation of the Dark Tower series returns in September with the five-issue series The Prisoner, which tells the backstory of Eddie Dean before he met Roland. You can check out the cover and the first pages here. The artist is Piotr Kowalski. Here’s the promo text: As this tale of urban crime opens, you’ll meet Eddie Dean as an innocent child who grows into a troubled young man gifted with the ability to open doors to other worlds. Can he survive family tragedy, a haunting addiction, and the deadly forces that conspire to stop him from challenging the Man in Black? Eddie faces trials and tribulations at every turn – and the badlands of Mid-World can’t hold a candle to the dangers of Brooklyn in the 1960s! Witness the story of a young man on the path to an unlikely destiny and the most important journey of his life.