End of Watch by Stephen King brings to conclusion a trilogy of novels that started out as the author’s foray into the mystery/thriller genre with Mr. Mercedes and Finders Keepers and wraps up with some elements of the first two books, along with King’s patented doses of the supernatural that could remind many of his blockbuster first book, Carrie.
Picking up about a year or so after the events of Finders Keepers, we find retired detective Bill Hodges, who now with his sidekick Holly runs their unauthorized private investigation agency, is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Given only months to live, he finds himself drawn into a recent spree of suicides. All the dead are connected by a common thread: each of them have in the past been in contact with Brady Hartsfield, the notorious Mr. Mercedes who, six years earlier, plotted to blow up a rock concert venue packed with teenagers. Hodges and Holly thwarted Brady's plans and left the killer in a vegetative state from which he never recovered. However, many of the staff in the hospital where Brady now resides believe that he is recovering at an impossible rate, and that he may be faking his injuries to avoid trial...except that everyone who gets too close to proving this suspicion seems to disappear. After his head injury, Brady found himself gaining new abilities, including the power to move small objects with his mind and the ability to enter the bodies of certain people susceptible to his mental domination. Using these tools, Brady has been crafting a plan to finish his murderous work by creating a hypnotic video game app that heightens the user's susceptibility. Once the users are in Brady's control, he will use the app to dominate their minds and persuade them to commit suicide. The targets are the very teenagers who escaped death when Brady's plan to destroy the concert venue failed. Brady's ultimate goal, however, is to lure Hodges into the game and exact revenge. Brady uses the bodies of both a corrupt neurosurgeon and a hospital librarian (“he’s become a living Russian nesting doll”) as both puppets and red herrings to do his dirty work and to misdirect the police while he makes his final move to destroy Hodges, all the while unaware that Hodges is already racing the clock against his own death.
As noted, End of Watch borrows the telekinesis theme King used so effectively in Carrie, though while that novel used it as a metaphor for suppressed emotional issues, here it becomes more of a pretext to get Brady, whose body has been slowly atrophying over the years of his interment at Kiner Brain Injury Clinic, out of bed and free him from the confines of room 217. King does create a clever science fiction McGuffin which enables Brady to “leap” into the minds and bodies of his victims (“look inside Babineau and there is Dr. Z. Look inside Dr Z and there, pulling all the levers, is Brady Hartsfield”). Once “inside” he becomes like a computer virus, forcing people to do his evil bidding and slowly unleashing his master plan to get revenge on Hodges: he’s manipulates the kids through his mind control, the ones who survived his failed attack at the ‘Round Here Concert, to commit suicide.
For me, the book is not as strong as the previous two (Hartsfield is not truly an evil character, more like a spoiled, petulant teenager, though the theme of teen suicide is a bit unseemly), and yet continues King’s tendency of late to write stories that feature characters and situations that mirror real life, with pain being one of many recurring subjects. There has also been a definite shift in his style since the van that nearly killed him in 1999. And while always prolific, his output since then (both good and bad) seems to mean something, as if he is seeing the finish line.