Bingo Square: Birthday (Stephen King’s birthday is 21 September)
Even though I quite liked Mr. Mercedes, I can’t say I was that interested in more novels with the characters. Based on who had and hadn’t survived in Mr. Mercedes, I felt like it ended well as it was, and I didn’t necessarily want to continue reading more about some of the characters without others also being around. However, I still ended up downloading the two other novels in the trilogy when I was granted a four day pass in April, figuring I might have some time for light reading on the beach, and Stephen King is always an author that easily pops to mind for me. I didn’t actually read them in April, and it wasn’t until I was in Texas in June for the demobilization that I finally decided to give this one a chance.
The thing that worked very well for me is that Bill Hodges and crew don’t even show up until the novel is more than halfway through. Instead, the novel begins with a crime in the 1970s, when Morris Bellamy and two accomplices break into the acclaimed author Rothstein’s house, steal all his on hand cash and his notebooks from his safe, and shoot him point blank in the head. While Rothstein hasn’t published in years, not since the final novel of a trilogy that made him a part of the literary cannon, he has continued writing this entire time.
Depending on the reader, the trilogy was either seen as a masterpiece, or in the view of Bellamy, made Rothstein a sell out for making his main character conform to the American dream. The killer takes out his accomplices and hides the money and notebooks before he is arrested and imprisoned for a separate crime but the dream of going back and reading the notebooks gives him one thing to focus on during long sentence.
From here, the novel flashes forward 30 years. Pete’s family has had a streak of bad luck. First his father lost his job due to the recession, and then he was one of the victim’s of the Mr. Mercedes attack. He survived but that also meant medical bills they couldn’t afford. The family has had to move to a different house in a cheaper part of town, and his parents continue to argue about money and bills nonstop. It is at this point, when the family has just about reached its breaking point, that Pete discovers a trunk buried under a tree near the river. It is filled with envelopes of cash and notebooks. He uses the cash to anonymously help his parents, but eventually starts reading the notebooks as well, becoming enthralled with the work of Rothstein, especially when he reads the final two, unpublished novels of the supposed trilogy. It completely changes the message and Pete is the only who has had the fortune to read them. However, once the money runs out years later, Pete finds himself stuck – should he try to figure out a way to monetize the notebooks to keep helping his parents or let it go? His decision leads down a dangerous path.
As usual with King, I loved the build up, the plot development, and how he set the scene. Once Hodges and crew join the story, I felt like it slowed things down and while the plot made sense (King’s mysteries tend to be tighter than his other novels), I felt like it lost momentum even as the action increased. I guess I am always more interested in the world building than the shoot ’em up action parts of stories, the part when there are still so many possibilities of what might come and seeing how they are slowly reduced to the narrative that actually happened as the author provides answers.
I’m more interested in reading the third novel in the trilogy now after having completed the second one, but think it was a very wise choice for King to spend so much time on other characters, even in something that is part of the Bill Hodges’ trilogy.
Bingo Square: Birthday