Unlikely private eye Holly Gibney is hired by the mother of a missing woman to track down her daughter. At first, Holly assumes the daughter has simply run away, tired of her overbearing mother, but she soon discovers that something more sinister is at play.
I majored in English. Trust me when I say there’s little that sucks the joy out of reading as much as majoring in English, because you’re bound to overthink everything you read. The fun stuff isn’t good enough and the good stuff isn’t fun enough. It takes a while – for me, at least – to push these thoughts aside. Holly isn’t exactly a literary masterpiece, but King has never pretended to be the next Norman Mailer (for which, I think, we can all breathe a sigh of relief). He aims to entertain, and that he does.
Though this is King’s first book to focus on Holly Gibney as a main character, she has appeared in the Mr Mercedes trilogy, none of which I’ve read, and I’ll say right at the start that it’d have been better if I had, because the references got tiresome quite quickly. Nevertheless, it’s easy enough to follow the story, and King thankfully doesn’t overdo it on the exposition. Holly herself is a likeable protagonist. She’s smart, but not too smart; kind, but not too kind and competent but no Mary Sue. At the start of the book, we watch her attend her mother’s funeral via Zoom; it’s 2021 and the final throes of the Covid pandemic are in full swing. Holly has a contentious relationship with her mother, who has kept her down all her life, and Holly feels conflicted: there is sadness, yes, but also relief, about which she feels guilty.
The Covid angle wasn’t entirely my cup of tea; King, in the afterword, says he didn’t intend for it to become preachy but that that was entirely unavoidable. I suppose he’s right, but with the pandemic still fresh in mind I’m not sure I wanted to read about it (I had similar problems with Karin Slaughter’s False Witness; it’s a pretty good book, but after dealing with Covid on a daily basis for close to two years I’d rather have had something else).
Thankfully the novel also includes two unlikely but delightfully grotesque villains. We, the reader, know from the start who they are, and they are completely unhinged. The question isn’t really who they are, it’s when they will be caught.
Holly isn’t exactly King’s most subtle work, with the vaudevillains on one hand and the Covid talk on the other (King wastes little time in letting the reader know where he stands on Trump, face masks and vaccines), but then again we don’t read King for subtlety, we read him for entertainment, and in that regards it lives up to its promise.