“Finders Keepers” is second in Stephen King’s new genre-shifting trilogy, after “Mr. Mercedes,” and it’s another very successful action thriller even if you can see King straining to keep up with publishing trends. (Is a YA supernatural romance far behind? Or does “Carrie” already sort of cover that territory?) I mentioned the first novel had a certain “Michael Connelly” smell to it, and here King backs me up: retired detective Bill Hodges even refers to Connelly as “his kind of writer.”
“Finders Keepers” is foremost a thriller about literature; it’s not coincidental that it was released at about the same time as Harper Lee’s “Go Set a Watchman.” It opens in 1978. John Rothstein is a reclusive author responsible for a beloved classic of American literature, the “Jimmy Gold” trilogy (think John Updike’s “Rabbit” books.) Rothstein is Updike, Salinger, Harper Lee and Philip Roth all at once, but that doesn’t save him from being murdered by Morris Bellamy, a literary fanatic dying to get his hands on Rothstein’s unreleased notebooks, where Jimmy Gold’s adventures reputedly continue.
Predictably things go bad for Bellamy, who gets caught and lands in prison for thirty-six years to more or less re-enact “The Shawshank Redemption” minus the redemption part. Upon his release, Bellamy aims straight for the golden notebooks he’s secreted away in a trunk. Problem: the notebooks have already been unearthed by a young boy, Pete Saubers, the son of one of the victims of “Mr. Mercedes” – and as much of a Rothstein fanatic as Bellamy. Cue cat and mouse game, leading to a heart-pounding final scene. It’s not an ORIGINAL scene, mind you: it owes a huge cinematic debt to “Night of the Hunter,” not to mention D. W. Griffith’s cross-cutting techniques. But it’s a scene that WORKS.
King usually gets slammed for not knowing how to end his horror novels, for summoning supernatural forces that he can’t quite confront satisfactorily. These two thrillers have side-swiped the issue with excellent climaxes. The flaws in the book lie elsewhere. Watching Bellamy and Pete in their collision course is far more interesting than anything going on with boring “hero” Bill Hodges and his side-kicks: crazy-lady Holly and Jerome “Tyrone Feelgood.” I’m glad SOMEONE obviously told King to cut it out with the “Tyrone” shtick, but we still get stuck with moments like this:
“Tyrone Feelgood Delight makes a mercifully brief guest appearance. ‘Dis here black boy goan tote dat barge an’ lift dat bale, Massa Hodges!’”
UGH. Not “brief” enough, let me assure you.
For those who feel King isn’t entirely in his element with procedural business, there are good news: King hasn’t entirely gone Benedict Arnold on the horror field, and “Finders Keepers” ends with an implicit promise to takes us back into chiller territory for the trilogy’s finale.
RATING: COOL! Part 3, please!