Book review: Stephen King’s ‘End of Watch’

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Stephen King’s End of Watch (Scribner, 431 pages, due June 7) is the kind of book for which the term “page-turner” was invented. (Note: It’s not to be confused with a 2012 cop movie of the same title.)

A riveting read from start to finish, End of Watch rousingly concludes the saga of retired-cop-turned-private-detective Bill Hodges who, along with sympathetic cohorts, confronts a final appalling plot by the deranged killer of Mr. Mercedes, who spent follow-up book Finders Keepers in a vegetative state.

Or did he?

Brady Hartsfield, who killed and maimed many with a stolen car but was thwarted before killing more with a concert-crowd explosion, has been playing possum on a grand scale at a brain injury clinic. His body is largely useless, but his mind awakens and ranges out, fired by a mix of experimental drugs and innate mental powers — including that old King stalwart, telekinesis.

Tapping the hypnotic effects of a video game, Brady launches an elaborate scheme to claim the concert victims he missed. And Hodges and partner Holly must sniff out the scheme before Brady becomes a Prince of Suicides.

Again, King welds an element of the supernatural — or perhaps sci-fi — into a grounded tale of earthly realities.

In isolation, mind transferals and other fanciful elements of End of Watch may seem far-fetched, if not preposterous. But in this ripping good yarn which yanks the reader through deft leaps in time and space, you hardly notice. You buy into it, which is what makes King such a master of storytelling craft.

He also injects cautionary observations about the dangers of our linked-in world, in which electronic devices tend to rule us, more than we control them. But this is no Cell. Rather, it’s a crime-case mystery our heroes must unlock in a race against time — a race which, for Hodges, is doubly short: He has cancer.

Rarely as grisly as many King books yet as compelling as any, End of Watch, at heart, is a frightening and satisfying tale of murderous evil faced down by stout, selfless heroism.

No shades of gray here, which is not to say King’s crime fiction is simple. Instead, it’s simply the best read I’ve had this year.

— Bruce Westbrook

 

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