A detective haunted by past cases left unresolved or unhappily resolved? This offers a terrific launching pad for storytelling.

Pocket Books - S&S, 2016

Pocket Books – S&S, 2016

Particularly when the detective is no longer in an official capacity and has more time on his hands to ruminate and regret.

“There’s not a day that goes by when he doesn’t think of [it], not a night when he doesn’t lie in bed thinking, If only I had been a little quicker. A little smarter.”

Finders Keepers is the second novel in the Bill Hodges trilogy and readers are naturally sympathetic to his desire to set things right.

He faces limitations however, including his own doubts and fears; some time has passed since the struggles he faced in Mr. Mercedes, but still he wonders whether he should give up.

“If he can’t crack a seventeen-year-old kid – one who’s probably dying to tell someone what’s been weighing him down – he needs to quit working and move to Florida, home of so many retired cops.”

But none of that is important at the outset of Finders Keepers, which immediately introduces another set of characters.

In fact, the link to the first volume is so thin at first that readers who are new to the author’s work might doubt the connection. (Veteran King readers will trust in the process.)

The novel opens at the scene of a new crime being committed, one which affects the lives of a family of four, in which one member was also a victim of the major crime committed at the outset of Mr. Mercedes.

Finders Keepers focusses on this ‘new’ criminal and another member of this family, who has a bird’s eye view of the devastation caused by the last volume’s villain.

There is a bookish bent to this story from an early murder, with a reference to MacBeth (“If ‘twere to be done, best it be done quickly) and there are plenty of opportunities to comment on authorship and the act of reading, with the owner of a rare bookshop playing a role as the novel unfolds.

“For readers, one of life’s most electrifying discoveries is that they are readers—not just capable of doing it (which Morris already knew), but in love with it. Hopelessly. Head over heels. The first book that does that is never forgotten, and each page seems to bring a fresh revelation, one that burns and exalts: Yes! That’s how it is! Yes! I saw that, too! And, of course, That’s what I think! That’s what I FEEL!”

A murder is no less bloody when it’s done quickly, however. (In fact, it is arguably bloodier. Or, more oatmeal-y.)

“All those stories, all those images, and what came out looked like so much oatmeal.”

There are a lot of refracted details in the novel which also cement trilogy, subtly but deliberately.

For instance, descriptors are used sparingly (often the situation is more horrifying than any detail), so the use of a breakfast food in figurative language stands out.

“’Hartsfield? He couldn’t read a Berenstain Bears book these days.’ He taps his forehead gravely. ‘Nothing left but oatmeal up top. Although sometimes he does hold out his hand for one of these.’ He picks up a Zappit e-reader. It’s a bright girly pink. ‘These jobbies have games on em.’”

These small reflections anchor the reader quietly but determinedly (there are more obvious examples, but they are connected to plot spoilers) and it’s this kind of attenion-to-detail and long-term plotting which contributes to the solid storytelling for which Stephen King is well-known.

It almost looks effortless, which fits with one character’s idea about novel-writing: a “good novelist does not lead his characters, he follows them. A good novelist does not create events, he watches them happen and then writes down what he sees. A good novelist realizes he is a secretary, not God.”

In his novels, Stephen King, does seem to play secretary, recording the details which surround this ever-more-complicated collision of story, as the lives of the criminal and this family member veer closer together, and other connections between them emerge.

For the bulk of this novel, the movement of each character is restricted, which also calls attention to a broader related theme. What do we choose to do with our freedom? “Not exactly a penthouse apartment, just six by eight, but at least there were books. Books were escape. Books were freedom.”

For some characters their freedom is overwhelming, whereas others do not possess it (whether because they are still children, for another immutable reason, or because they have made choices which directly restrict it).

Bill Hodges is still trying to earn his, while simultaneously ensuring that the true criminals lose theirs.

And, ever so quietly, a question lurks beneath this narrative, only briefly surfacing near the end of Finders Keepers: are there ways to secure our freedom which we only unearth when all other routes have been blocked?

What happens when someone truly malcious and unbalanced is once secured, but later finds a way to escape?

Thoughts on the first volume appeared here, and thoughts tomorrow on End of Watch.

Does this sound like a book you’d enjoy?