My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I’m a huge fan of Stephen King’s work. In fact, I’ve read over 90% of what he’s written. For that reason alone, I think I’m pretty well inaugurated as a Constant Reader. I think there are several things to consider when reading a King novel:
1. Characterisation – I list this first, because, in my opinion, it’s what King has always excelled at. I know of no other author that can take up residence inside the heads of his characters like Stephen King can. I believe it’s the one single reason for King’s success.
2. Story – Stephen King has written a lot of novels. How does an author keep things fresh after being in the business for so long?
3. ‘Best’ work – I always finding myself thinking of my favourite King novels, and comparing the newer ones to them.
4. Endings – King has often been criticised for his endings. He sometimes has a tendency to get so wrapped up in his characters, that the ending can feel like a let-down. Like he suddenly thinks, ‘Shit, I wrote 150,000 words, I’d better write an ending’.
The basic plot
Morris Bellamy, unhappy with author John Rothstein’s ending to his Jimmy Gold ‘Runner’ trilogy, murders the reclusive writer in his home. His primary aim is to get his hands on Rothstein’s unpublished work. He succeeds, but then, when an associate gets cold feet due to the publicity surrounding the murder, he is forced to bury his treasure until the heat is off. In the meantime, he gets drunk and rapes a woman during a blackout, for which he is convicted and sentenced to life. The story’s other main character is Peter Saubers. Pete is the son of a man who was badly injured in the first book of the Hodges trilogy, Mr Mercedes. Saubers, also a fan of Rothstein’s work, stumbles upon the buried treasure – a trunk containing all of Rothstein’s notebooks (which contain two unpublished Jimmy Gold novels). Finders Keepers revolves around Bellamy’s attempt to reclaim his treasure, Saubers’s desire to turn bad into good, and Hodges and his associates’ efforts to ultimately save Saubers from Bellamy (and himself).
First the good – The opening section of the novel jumps back and forth between Rothstein’s murder (in 1978) and the aftermath, and Pete Saubers finding the treasure (in 2009). It is excellent. Truly immersive and well written with great characters and plot. Bellamy is a villain to be hated – a cold-blooded killer without scruples, and Saubers is a kid with problems and a love of literature. Both are things King has always done well. This section is one third of the novel, and as good as anything King has written since 11.22.63 – yes, it’s that good!
Finders Keepers is the second novel in the Hodges trilogy, and this is where the problems begin. I’m not sure why King and the publishers felt the need to make this a trilogy. The first two novels can be read in any order, and could (and in my opinion should) be separate novels with a completely separate cast of characters. The two characters already mentioned are both brilliantly executed (I don’t mean literally executed by the way!), but the characters that survived Mr Mercedes (Hodges, Holly and Jerome) are for the most part lacking and one-dimensional – not something you can say about too many of King’s characters. Don’t get me wrong, I like Finders Keepers, but I think it would be a much better novel with a completely fresh set of characters. Bellamy and Saubers are new creations, and it feels like King was more enthusiastic writing their parts than he was about the characters established in Mr Mercedes. Like maybe they’re already getting stale for King (not a great sign considering there’s still another part of the trilogy to come).
I don’t do spoilers, so I won’t mention how the plot unfolds, but I will say that it feels a little staged and formulaic – like Dean Koontz loaned Stephen King a checklist for writing a novel. Parts of the novel are a little too coincidental (Saubers lives in the same house that Bellamy lived in all those years ago, and is also a huge fan of Rothstein’s work – whodathunkit?), which is surprising, as King normally makes his characters work for information. In Finders Keepers, a lot of the information just seems to fall in their laps. The ending is okay, not great. The novel feels like a store-wrapped parcel – neatly packaged with a ribbon on top – and it doesn’t have the edge that some of King’s best work has. Parts feel like they were over-plotted, and while plotting is no bad thing, they don’t feel spontaneous: a quality that stands out a mile in King’s best work as he lets his imagination run wild. King’s fiction is best when the plotting seems loose and rough around the edges, not when everything is neat and tidy in an A=B=C approach. Since 11.22.63 it feels to me like much of King’s work suffers in this respect.
It’s difficult to review a Stephen King novel, because I always find myself comparing it to his great novels, and maybe I expect a little too much. My favourites are The Green Mile, 11.22.63, Desperation, Dreamcatcher, Needful Things, The Stand and IT. I mean, come on, I can’t expect books of that quality every year, can I? King is getting older, and needless to say everything he writes will be pre-ordered by me and millions of others. That won’t change, but some of King’s newer stuff feels rushed and written to a strict deadline without some of the old enthusiasm that made me fall in love with his work over twenty years ago as a teenager. I’d be happy to wait twice as long for a novel by King that he enjoyed writing twice as much. A novel that he really poured everything into every page, like my favourites that I just mentioned.
While Finders Keepers isn’t this novel, it is still worth a read, for the opening third alone.
Don’t expect to place it in your top 5 King reads though, Constant Reader.