Have you noticed how unnerving some of King's killers are? It's because they seem all too real. That's because, I think, King often bases them on real people. There was a real Annie Wilkes and a real Mr. Mercedes.
salon.com posted an interesting article titled, "“Mr. Mercedes”: How Stephen King’s killers mirror real-life murderers."
Mike Berry notes that the timing for Mr. Mercedes could not be less propitious, and reminds us in a side note that Black House arrived in stores September 11, 2001. I didn't know that.
The novel’s publication date comes a little more than a week after Elliot Rodger stabbed three people to death in his apartment near UC Santa Barbara, killed three others in drive-by shootings, ran down pedestrians in his BMW and then fatally shot himself with his own gun. In the wake of the Isla Vista tragedy, this straight-ahead thriller now makes for uncomfortable reading, in a way Mr. King undoubtedly did not intend.Of course, King gives us two types of bad guys. There's the Randall Flagg naughty boy; he's the devil and he'll do as he likes. And then there is the more creepy real life murders
The scary thing about Mr. Mercedes is that he could be -- anyone. Thus Mike Berry notes Hartfield starts off as one of King's "least interesting villains." He reminds me of Norman Bates; only, Psycho was scarier. Norman was scarier. It might be the difference in media (print verses movie, Hitch verses King.) But what both characters emphasize is that we never really know what's going on inside someone elses head. And that's scary.
What Berry keenly notes is that Hartfield didn't "snap." And most killers really don't. They plan, plot and think over their crimes. They relish messing with the police and reliving their crimes.
Here are some easily overlooked villains in the Stephen King canon:
1. Jo St. George. A child molester, wife beater and thief, it seems ole Joe doesn't get his due in the Stephen King universe. His wife, Dolores finished him off in what can only be described as a brilliant execution. I loved it! In fact, I think Dolores Claiborne might be one of those overlooked gems that Stephen King has churned out. And though the focus of the novel is on Dolores, Jo is one mean dude and the reader sympathizes with Dolores' vigilante style of justice.
Let me tell you, as creepy as Mr. Mercede's is -- and as sick as his relationship with his mommy is -- he doesn't molest little kids. Driving cars into crowds is very, very bad. But there is something that so deeply crosses the line with child molestation that it stands on its own in terms of wickedness. Allow me to go a bit preacher on this one. Jesus said it would be better to have a millstone hung around your neck and thrown into the ocean than to have to stand before him on Judgment day and have to answer to harming a child. In other words, God has a special place in hell -- literally -- for that kind of wickedness.
2. In 11.22.63, King gave us a real life killer, Lee Harvey Oswald. By mixing fictional characters with historical, King offered a strange blend of realism. Oswald wasn't a passing character in the book, but someone we followed at some length, getting to know and to some degree understand. Yeah, he was creepy.
3. Charlie Decker, a high school student in the Bachman novel, Rage, holds his classroom hostage and has a long talk-session with them. The novel is tense as the reader is left wondering if these students are going to make it out alive. And, the book is scarier now than when it was written, since it's actually been connected directly to several schools shootings.
That ever helpful source, Wikipedia, gives these examples of real life school shootings that were in some way connected to or supposedly inspired by rage:
- Jeffrey Lyne Cox, a senior at San Gabriel High School in San Gabriel, California, took a semi-automatic rifle to school on April 26, 1988 and held a humanities class of about 60 students hostage for over 30 minutes. Cox held the gun to one student when the teacher doubted he would cause harm and stated that he would prove it to her. At that time three students escaped out a rear door and were fired upon. Cox was later tackled and disarmed by another student. A friend of Cox told the press that Cox had been inspired by the Kuwait Airways Flight 422 hijacking and by the novel Rage, which Cox had read over and over again and with which he strongly identified.
- Dustin L. Pierce, a senior at Jackson County High School in McKee, Kentucky, armed himself with a shotgun and two handguns and took a history classroom hostage in a nine-hour standoff with police on September 18, 1989 that ended without injury. Police found a copy of Rage among the possessions in Pierce's bedroom, leading to speculation that he had been inspired to carry out the plot of the novel.
- Barry Loukaitis, a student at Frontier Middle School in Moses Lake, Washington, walked from his house to the school on February 2, 1996, and entered his algebra classroom during fifth period. He opened fire at students, killing two and wounding another. He then fatally shot his algebra teacher, Leona Caires, in the chest. As his classmates began to panic, Loukaitis reportedly said, "This sure beats algebra, doesn't it?" — a line erroneously believed to be taken from Rage. (No such line appears in King’s story. The closest is when Charlie Decker quips, "This sure beats panty raids.") Hearing the gunshots, gym coach Jon Lane entered the classroom. Loukaitis was holding his classmates hostage and planned to use one hostage so he could safely exit the school. Lane volunteered as the hostage, and Loukaitis was keeping Lane at gunpoint with his rifle. Lane then grabbed the weapon from Loukaitis and wrestled him to the ground, then assisted the evacuation of students.
- In December 1997 Michael Carneal shot eight fellow students at a prayer meeting in West Paducah, Kentucky. He had a copy of the book within the Richard Bachman omnibus in his locker. This was the incident that moved King to allow the book to go out of print.
SOURCE: wikipedia.org/wiki/RageBerry raises the concern that Rage can be misunderstood as celebrating the violence it actually condemns. Comparing Rage to Mercedes, Berry writes,
[Rage] was written by a young author not fully in control of the tools of his craft. “Mr. Mercedes” is the product of an old hand, an accomplished writer of popular fiction who generally knows what he’s doing. There’s really no need to fret that the book might inspire further mayhem.4. The Needful Thing's cast. Leeland Gaunt is supposed to be the devil himself. He's one bad dude. But he's not the scary part of Needful Things. The town-folk are! Willing to cut each other up in the street, slay dogs and burn their town right to the ground, the last novel of Castle Rock was a dozy! It is long, but it's also under-appreciated. King really shows how the devil works, getting us to take one small step into sin and finding that soon we are willing to do things we never thought was in our own character.
Berry misses his opportunity to really dig deeper into Hartfield's psychology. It does seem to be what the article promised. Instead, Berry gives us as much a review of the book itself as a deeper look at Brady Hartfield. He declares that the novel ranks in the "middle" of King's work in terms of quality. And where would that be?
nowhere near the pinnacle of “The Shining” but well away from the abyss of, say, “Dreamcatcher.”Humm. I liked The Shining a lot. But I'm not sure it was the "pinnacle." It's brilliant, absolutely brilliant, and yes -- Mr. Mercede's isn't The Shining. But it's not King's absolute best. Disagree with me? It might be a while since you've actually read the book. The novel is very closed in, which is both creepy and at point tedious. I like sprawling novels like The Stand, and, believe it or not, Doctor Sleep.
And as for Dreamcatcher, which Berry put at the bottom of the pile; I enjoyed it! Well, for a while. It's both crazy and engaging. Stick with the book, not the movie on this one. Is it a masterpiece? No. But it's fun.