Search

J. J. Brown, Wordslinger

"I Sling Words As I Go Along."

Tag

thriller

Review: The Bill Hodges Trilogy by Stephen King

Mr. Mercedes (2015)*

In the frigid pre-dawn hours, in a distressed Midwestern city, desperate unemployed folks are lined up for a spot at a job fair. Without warning, a lone driver plows through the crowd in a stolen Mercedes, running over the innocent, backing up, and charging again. Eight people are killed; fifteen are wounded. The killer escapes.
In another part of town, months later, a retired cop named Bill Hodges is still haunted by the unsolved crime. When he gets a crazed letter from someone who self-identifies as the “perk” and threatens an even more diabolical attack, Hodges wakes up from his depressed and vacant retirement, hell-bent on preventing another tragedy.
Brady Hartsfield lives with his alcoholic mother in the house where he was born. He loved the feel of death under the wheels of the Mercedes, and he wants that rush again. Only Bill Hodges, with two new, unusual allies, can apprehend the killer before he strikes again. And they have no time to lose, because Brady’s next mission, if it succeeds, will kill or maim thousands.

Finders Keepers (2016)

“Wake up, genius.”
So announces deranged fan Morris Bellamy to iconic author John Rothstein, who once created the famous character Jimmy Gold and hasn’t released anything since. Morris is livid, not just because his favorite writer has stopped publishing, but because Jimmy Gold ended up as a sellout.
Morris kills his idol and empties his safe of cash, but the real haul is a collection of notebooks containing John Rothstein’s unpublished work…including at least one more Jimmy Gold novel. Morris hides everything away before being locked up for another horrific crime.
But upon Morris’s release thirty-five years later, he’s about to discover that teenager Pete Saubers has already found the stolen treasure—and no one but former police detective Bill Hodges, along with his trusted associates Holly Gibney and Jerome Robinson, stands in the way of his vengeance….

End of Watch (2017)

For nearly six years, in Room 217 of the Lakes Region Traumatic Brain Injury Clinic, Brady Hartsfield has been in a persistent vegetative state. A complete recovery seems unlikely for the insane perpetrator of the “Mercedes Massacre,” in which eight people were killed and many more maimed for life.
But behind the vacant stare, Brady is very much awake and aware, having been pumped full of experimental drugs…scheming, biding his time as he trains himself to take full advantage of the deadly new powers that allow him to wreak unimaginable havoc without ever leaving his hospital room.
Brady Hartsfield is about to embark on a new reign of terror against thousands of innocents, hell-bent on taking revenge against anyone who crossed his path—with retired police detective Bill Hodges at the very top of that long list….

The first Stephen King novel I read was Carrie. I was ten years old and it captured me in a way that not much else had, at least not until Shakespeare, but I wouldn’t get to him until I was twelve and on a visit to my grandparents’ house. I’ve been reading King ever since, the most recent novel being Revival.  There are my favorites (readers of my blog know of my love for IT, but others are The Dark Tower series, The Shining‘Salem’s Lot, and The Stand, to name a few) and there are those that are not my favorites (the early Bachman books, Gerald’s GameDuma Key, and a few more).  There will be a time when my least favorite of King novels will end up being on my favorites list (this happened when I read Christine), but that’s another post.

I’d heard a lot about the Bill Hodges trilogy, especially when the TV series aired.  But it wasn’t until I saw warnings about connections to King’s latest novel, The Outsider, that I decided I should read the trilogy.  It took a couple of weeks to work my way through Mr. Mercedes, but it’s the first act of a three-act play – that’s always the toughest part.  Characters are introduced, their stories are established and clues are dropped about how things will pan out later on in Act Three.

By the end, however, I was hooked.

I had had the foresight to pick up a copy of Finders Keepers shortly before finishing the first book.  This one was finished on the morning of Friday, July 13th.  Within hours, I had a copy of End of Watch in my hands.  At around eight o’clock on the morning of July 14th, less than 24 hours after I’d bought it, I had finished it.

So – here are my thoughts, such as they are.

Bill Hodges, a retired police detective, is joined by Holly Gibney and Jerome Robinson as he tries to track down first the Mercedes Killer; then tackles a case involving two unpublished novels; and wraps it up with a series of deaths that aren’t quite what they appear to be.  The twists, the turns and the uncertainty play out as I cringe with each act of violence, worry over a particular character’s choices that may not be the best ones or weeping at the final words of the story as a whole.

From start to finish, I was on a literary joyride.  I had no desire to go about my daily life – work, hang out with my horses, talk to friends, for example.  All I wanted was to curl up and live inside these tomes, taking part in what Stephen King himself describes as a portable magic.  When I pick up a Stephen King novel, I don’t merely read them – I breathe them, live them, inhabit them as I follow each character down their unique path.  I can almost taste the air they breathe, feel the dirt that digs itself into their clothes or under their nails.

There have been times when I would come out of reading a book, having tuned out the world around me so completely that I felt like I was surfacing from the deep blue sea.

This trilogy was no different.

 

Rating: Five out Five stars.

*All book descriptions are from the covers.

Advertisements

So, when I write in a genre I’m not familiar with……

…….I make a point of reading as much related material as I can get my hands on. As a way to understand the genre I’m tackling, there’s  no better way to get familiar with it than reading as many books and authors as possible. Whether it’s a thriller or erotica or a mystery, each and every genre has its own set of rules to go by. And the more you read and write and follow those rules, the better you get at understanding how to turn them on their head and create something else altogether.

When I was working on my thriller screenplay, I read a lot of true crime and criminology books, as well as thrillers that were similar in nature to what I wanted to write. Thrillers, by and large, are essentially mysteries, but with bigger settings and higher stakes. In some ways, I think I succeeded, and in others, I failed. Because of the vision I’d had originally, I over-complicated certain aspects of setting and character and ended up stretching the credibility of the reality I was trying to establish. With the passage of time, I’ve been able to work out how to correct some errors and strengthen what’s already there.

With my erotic speakeasy story, I’ve read a number of short stories and novels, paying close attention to and breaking down in analytical terms particular scenes. While the nature of these stories is to be playful and sexy and arousing, my interest in reading them was to analyze how these scenes inspired (or didn’t inspire) arousal. It’s word choice, certainly, and how those words are used matters. The right words not only conjure up setting and time, they also have the added duty of creating an emotional connection between you and the characters. If you don’t feel the desire that the characters are feeling, then words were either poorly chosen or poorly placed.

My rule of thumb in knowing if I’ve created the desired effect is how I feel when I’m writing any particular scene. If the scene requires arousal and flirtatious behavior, I’ll know if I’m on the right track by how I respond to it. If the scene requires uneasiness or fear, my heart rate will be affected in a far different manner. And the only way to truly know if I’ve been successful in creating the mood I wanted is how someone else reacts to it.

So far, so good.

IMG_20160227_115204-2-2-2

So, I wrote a thriller screenplay…..

……while working towards my Bachelor’s degree, lo these many years ago. It was in response to the many films that featured violence against women. It’s a tiresome trope, in my opinion, even when the woman fights back and comes out on top. I mean, really, is that actual agency for a female character in a story? Or for women in real life? Can’t women just be pivotal in a film or story without having it be in response to violence acted against them?

These questions were at the forefront of my mind as I wrote it over a three month period. I did a lot of research in terms of criminology and came up with some interesting ideas, which I then incorporated into the main story. Clues and plot points and red herrings were extremely important to keep track of, as I didn’t want to give away the reveal too early, while setting it up in a subtle and sensible way.

Several male characters were victimized in the same way women had been, both in film and in real life. The female characters had agency and their purpose was not tied to experiences personal to them. One character I knew early on to be the perpetrator of the crimes that take place in the script, but a reader had indicated that it was too obvious. So, I went back in and made a secondary character already in the story not only the perpetrator of the crimes, but also the accomplice of the first character. Now I suspect that there is yet a third character tied to the first two, and I’m curious to explore that.

The funny thing about being a writer is that you never stop working on a project, no matter how done with it you think you are. I’ve never been entirely satisfied with the screenplay, but I attribute that to my own lack of knowledge in forensics and police work (hint: more research to be done here. Yay!). Also, It needed some strategic re-working in several places, which I hadn’t done due to several moves and a return to school for an MFA.

Then it occurred to me, not too long ago, that it needs to be re-written in novel form, a challenge that is exciting for me. Why? Because, despite the incredibly dark themes explored within the context of the story, I had a lot of fun writing it.

Being creative through the arts is about exploring and analyzing and expressing all facets of our experiences, from the light and beautiful to the dark and sinister. It is a safe way to express feelings and thoughts that don’t ordinarily get a voice. Music, painting, writing, poetry, dance – whatever the art form, what feels silenced can be heard.

I haven’t begun working on adapting the thriller screenplay into novel form, yet, but it’s definitely on my work plate. The twist at the end had grown to a double twist and now I suspect that there’s a third twist yet to come.

That’s exciting to me. Do you have a project that’s been teasing you, mocking you, daring you to come back and re-work what you’ve started?

If you do, go forth and re-make that creative project into the art it demands to be.

IMG_20160227_115204-2-2-2

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑