Stephen King once again dips his pen (or word processor) into the concept of what an author owes his fans. In an age of Twitter, Reddit, and Facebook where writers can interact with their readers in a more stalky, and intimate way than even book signings and other appearances can give, Finders Keepers (the second entry in a trilogy that began with last years Mr. Mercedes) takes us deeper into that writer/reader relationship with book lover Morris Bellamy and his favorite writer, the Salingeresque John Rothstein.
King does not cover up the fact that he is using Salinger as a model, as Rothstein lives in a small New Hampshire town some two miles from the nearest neighbor, and has been in recluse since publishing his last novel some eighteen years earlier -although he has continued to write. Because much like Salinger, Rothstein has filled up dozens of leather Moleskin notebooks with unpublished stories, including two novels featuring the troubled young man named Jimmy Gold -which he stashes in his safe along with some $24,000 in cash.
While Annie Wilkes of Misery could be called crazy, Morris Bellamy is far from that. He could be called smart, but like some of us, he becomes his worst enemy when things go rotten. Even though his mom is a celebrated author, Bellamy's life has been tough since his dad left them. But he found something to identify in Rothstein's character of Jimmy Gold and until that third book, Morris was in love. Now bent on confronting his hero writer, Bellamy (and two really stupid coconspirators) break into Rothstein's house. Of course, Morris wants answers, while Curtis and Freddy want the money. After being mocked by Rothstein, Morris shoots him dead and the three make off with the cash and the notebooks -though only one returns back to the old home town.
And it's there, in what is described as “filthy little city that residents called the Gem of the Great Lakes,” Morris Bellamy's world unwinds. For he brags to the only person there he calls a friend, a bookseller of rare tomes, of what he did and what he has now in his possession. But Andrew Halliday is horrified at the news, which then sends Bellamy into a drunken' stupor and a blackout. When he awakens he realizes he's in jail. But while he's not there for three murders, he has committed a violent rape that will see him incarcerated for life.
The first 157 pages are essentially a prologue, as King sets up the backstory that will follow. In those first quarter he flashes between 1978 and 2009 through 2014 where we meet the family who is now living in the house where Bellamy grew up. And the Saubers, Tom, his wife Linda and their kids Pete and Tina, seem more down on their luck than Morris. Tom was injured when a maniac drove a Mercedes into a crowd of people at a job fair, killing 8 and injuring countless others (which is the opening chapter of Mr. Mercedes) and that financial woes of the accident and the economy seem to be bringing their marriage to a close. But then Pete stumbles upon a trunk full of money and Moleskin notebooks and hatches a plan to give that money to his parents. He also discovers what is written in those notebooks and he too falls in love with Rothstein and the character of Jimmy Gold. But he soon realizes he has two never-published fourth and fifth books in that series and also learns the author sort of did a course correct on Gold -something that long imprisoned Morris Bellamy does not know about.
The back half of the book deals with Morris being paroled and when he goes back to his home town to discovers his stash is missing. This is also where we finally get reacquainted with retired cop Kermit William ("Bill" to friends) Hodges who has formed his own repo company called Finders Keepers and employs Holly Gibney. Eventually Jerome Robinson returns from college to help investigate Pete (Tina is convinced Pete gave the money and is now scared her brother is in trouble). We also get a return visit of Mr. Mercedes himself, Brady Hartfield. This sub-plot is seemingly -and what appears to be a supernatural one at that- a small Easter egg for readers to know that a final confrontation between Hodges and Brady is to come in next years End of Watch (I'm not sure fans of crime fiction will like this development, especially after Mr. Mercedes was handed the 2014 Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America).
Of course, beyond Salinger there appears to other literary references within Finders Keepers, such as Rothstein's fiction trilogy of "The Runner”, “The Runner Sees Action”, and “The Runner Slows Down,” which evokes John Updikes Rabbit books. And Philip Roth lurks with the name of King's famous writer. In the end, this examination between writers and fans is always interesting for me. While I adore King and have not always been pleased with his works (Tommyknockers remains unread), I would never consider myself such a fan that I should end up stalking them or demanding they change the fates of characters.