One conceit I’ve always allowed Stephen King even while resisting it is his tendency to make everyone an avid reader. In book after book, diverse, hard-pressed characters in duress will suddenly reflect on a passage by an author they loved, as if this would happen in real life. But King himself is an avid reader, not just writer, and it pleases him to lace his narratives in beloved literary contexts.
With his new Finders Keepers (Scribner), as with Misery years before it, King’s narrative isn’t just laced with anecdotal references to literary affections — it’s utterly and dangerously galvanized by obsession with a novelist.
In this case, the obsession starts with a 1970s bad bongo, Morris Bellamy, who murders reclusive writer John Rothstein not just for his cache of cash but for a rumored treasure trove of writings he’d penned and squirreled away since retiring at his career’s peak after producing three acclaimed novels about a Holden Caulfield type character.
Cut to 2009, when Bellamy nears release from prison after decades and is hell-bent on recovering the writer’s notebooks he hid near his home in Ohio — a home now occupied by a teen, Pete Saubers, who coincidentally shares his obsession with Rothstein and coincidentally uncovers the treasure where it’s buried nearby. (Yes, coincidences do happen — but in this book they happen a lot.)
Pete’s dad was among those injured in the crazed speeding-car slaughter of last year’s Mr. Mercedes, for which this book forms the second part of a planned trilogy. The first book’s detective character, Hodges, and his friends in solving crimes enter Finders Keepers about a third of the way through, as Bellamy and Saubers’ paths start to connect in wildly eventful, chaotic and scary ways.
If one thing describes much of King’s work over the years, it’s “page-turners,” and Finders Keepers is one, especially as it careens toward resolution. Often gruesome but also humanistic and heartfelt, it’s a tragic but touching story of family loyalty, evil criminality and the literary devotions which bizarrely yet convincingly connect them.
It’s also as resoundingly satisfying as a hard-boiled suburban noir novel as Mr. Mercedes, which is saying a lot. And it smartly sets the stage for what should be a creepy book three.
In fact, I’m almost obsessed with the thought of what might lie in store. Then I realize that such obsession can be a dangerous rabbit hole to explore — especially with Stephen King.
Yet that’s what makes it so fun.
You’ve done it, Stephen. Like your characters, I’m hooked.
— Bruce Westbrook