With mass killings by estranged loners becoming scarily commonplace, Stephen King’s new novel, Mr. Mercedes (Scribner, 436 pages, $30, June 3), is as timely as an unearthed clue without a moment to spare. It’s also his most straightforward crime thriller ever — Joyland on steroids — with no supernatural elements but rather a compelling, page-turning case to solve.
That cold case gets a renewed attack by shrewd retired cop Hodges, who never caught “Mr. Mercedes,” the killer who slammed a stolen car into a parking-lot crowd of job-seekers. The killer’s identity is quickly revealed — this is as much his story as Hodges’ — and cat-and-mouse intrigue follows when he tauntingly contacts the ex-cop to goad him into suicidal despair.
What follows has violent moments, including flashbacks, but King seems to respect that this novel isn’t exclusively for horror devotees. Mr. Mercedes is more gripping than gruesome, building tension and excitement instead of resorting to grisly eruptions.