Stephen King’s summer release, Finders Keepers, picks up the saga of retired police detective (“Det Ret”) Bill Hodges, a story King began in his previous novel, Mr. Mercedes. Although it’s book two of a planned Bill Hodges Trilogy, Finders Keepers doesn’t suffer from any of the usual middle-of-a-trilogy weaknesses. The novel stands easily on its own, the story is compelling and complex, the characters are engaging, and the conflict had me holding my breath for the inevitable resolution.
The plot of Finders Keepers unfolds in narrative that alternates back and forth in time, starting with the infamous unsolved murder of a renowned American novelist in the 70s, and ending up in the present day of adolescent protagonist Peter Sauber, who is dealing with the effects on his family resulting from a mass-murder during a recession-era job fair (these are the events from the first novel in the planned trilogy, Mr. Mercedes) — where young Pete’s father was badly injured.
Pete finds a buried treasure, and must struggle with questions about doing the right thing, familial obligation, filial love, and that ultimate bugbear of adolescence: Life isn’t fair.
Ultimately, of course, the terrifying (and somehow pitiable) antagonist of the piece (the guy who buried the treasure in the first place) comes looking for it.
When King writes about writing and writers, the reader automatically assumes a degree of self-reflexive storytelling. Just a few such examples over the years include Misery, The Dark Half, Bag of Bones, and Lisey’s Story — each of which are powerful novels that provide as much internal character exposition as external. But where the aforementioned novels examine the internal struggle of writers floundering between worlds both internal and external, Finders Keepers examines the experience of readers entering the world created by a powerful story. The novel examines the experience of reader-engaging-text almost as a kind of conversion narrative.
King holds a secure place in a long line of fundamentally Puritan New England writers. He returns again and again to themes of good versus evil, faith versus cynicism, innocence versus wickedness, judgement versus revenge, and ultimately, damnation versus redemption. He’s subversive, however, in that an innocent reader is unlikely to suspect there’s more going on than than a tear-you-along-by-your hair narrative guaranteed to keep you up and reading well past your bedtime.
Finders Keepers fits neatly into that body of work, while remaining compulsively readable and never preachy. The novel poses unanswered questions regarding literary compulsion, desire, and the sometimes dysfunctional symbiosis between writer and reader — yet remains a rollicking good thriller completely suitable for a summer-blockbuster beach read.
And, as usual, I can hardly wait for King’s next book.