“Highly recommended, especially on a dark and snowy night when the wind is calling and there might be murderers just around the corner.”
End of Watch is the last in Stephen King’s Bill Hodges trilogy of crime thrillers which started with the excellent Mr Mercedes and continued with the slightly disappointing but still fun Finders Keepers. Where the narratives in the first two were straight crime thrillers, End of Watch finds King returning to more familiar territory with the additional of a supernatural (or, more precisely, a supernormal) element, specifically telekinesis and consciousness swapping/mind control. King also brings back the original villain from Mr Mercedes, Brady Hartsfield, and a welcome return it is after the slightly strained reworking of Misery that was Finders Keepers. The whole story plays as the closing of a circle opened at the beginning of Mr Mercedes, and although it works well as a standalone novel it’s far better read, and feels far completer, when taken as part of the trilogy.
This being Stephen King, one of the book’s great strengths are the characters: protagonist, Bill Hodges is realistic and likeable, and is again ably assisted by well-drawn support players, notably Holly his business partner and friend, and Hartsfield is a good (although not great) villain. The narrative is more thriller than who- or how-dunnit, as Hodges races against the clock to avert a tragedy set in motion by Hartsfield, who’s using handheld videogames to make people do terrible things. As with the earlier two books, this is a tense and fast ride that sets its characters on a collision course early and then follows them as they crash towards each other. There’s nothing particularly new here but King is such a sure and gifted writer that it’s never less than interesting or exciting and it’s to his immense credit that he can introduce a character and have you feeling sorry for them within a couple of pages before they disappear form the story completely. In lesser hands this would irritate; in the maestro’s, it works, and works brilliantly. There’s sadness here, and pathos, and ultimately a story that has the courage to be both dark and reflective and surprisingly uplifting. If there are faults, then they’re small: Jerome, a main character from Mr Mercedes returns but does very little (it’s as though King wants him back because he knows that this is the last book in this series and wants to make sure all the elements of the circle are there at the closing) and there’s a slight nagging feel (also present in a more emphatic way in his novel Cell) that King is wary of modern technology and sees it as a carrier, if not cause, of all sorts of life’s problems, but these are small complaints with what’s a wonderful book overall.
As an audiobook, End of Watch works well. Narrator Will Patton almost drawls his way through the text, making the reading sound easy and unforced, and it’s the perfect voice for this tale. He takes the sensible route of not attempting to act new voices for each character but rather, distinguishes each by changing the pitch and timbre of his speech which does the job perfectly well. He gives Hodges and Holly differing intonations which helps to set them apart and ensures that the listener never gets lost in what can be, at times, dialogue-heavy scenes and moments of long (but never unwanted or unneeded) explanation. Production, as expected from a modern audiobook, is excellent. Hearing this story told, rather than simply read, brings an extra element to it, an intimacy that suits the claustrophobic and ever-tightening world King creates, and it’s a real shame that this is the last of the series. Highly recommended, especially on a dark and snowy night when the wind is calling and there might be murderers just around the corner.
SIMON KURT UNSWORTH
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Length: 12 hrs 54 mins
Release Date: 7 June 2016
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