Billed as Stephen King’s first hard-boiled detective novel, the Edgar Award-winning Mr. Mercedes took readers by storm in 2014. If you were one of the many fans who raced feverishly through it, leaving TV shows unwatched and phone calls un-returned until you reached its blistering finale, then get ready: you’re about to do it all over again with Finders Keepers. Clear your calendar, and don’t say we didn’t warn you.
Finders Keepers opens with the cold-blooded murder of John Rothstein, a legendary and reclusive author who found fame with a trilogy about an iconic character named Jimmy Gold. The controversial third novel in the trilogy ended with Jimmy Gold becoming a successful and obnoxious ad executive, which many fans saw as a disappointing betrayal of his values.
For rabid Rothstein super-fan and general lowlife Morris Bellamy, whose obsession with the Jimmy Gold books borders on madness, Gold’s selling-out and Rothstein’s refusal to continue publishing amount to a deliberate and personal betrayal. Seeking revenge, Morris breaks into Rothstein’s secluded cabin, kills him, and steals his hidden reserve of cash—but the real prize he’s after is a priceless pile of notebooks containing years’ worth of Rothstein’s unpublished writings, which Morris suspects may continue Jimmy Gold’s story. On the run, Morris hides the novels away, but before he can return to read them, he is imprisoned for an unrelated crime. He then spends decades behind bars.
Enter: Pete Saubers. When the young boy discovers the long-hidden notebooks years later, Rothstein’s work ignites in him a similar (although much less vengeful) passion, and he finds himself inspired by Jimmy Gold’s continued exploits. But by taking possession of Morris’s stolen treasure, he has unwittingly pit himself against a ruthless criminal. And since Pete happens to be the kind of smart, resourceful child who is perhaps a little too independent for his own good, he soon finds himself trapped in a dangerous, high-stakes game of cat and mouse. It falls to Bill Hodges and his friends Holly and Jerome to protect an innocent child from a killer—and once more, their quick wits and detective skills are challenged as they race against the clock to avert the unthinkable. The dynamic trio is in rare form, and it’s a delight to encounter them again, even if it’s once more under harrowing, sometimes gruesome circumstances.
Although a reader’s obsession with a writer is a subject that King once tackled indelibly in Misery, he proves with Finders Keepers that it is a deep and rich vein, with plenty of room for further examination. Morris is a twisted criminal, capable of committing hideous acts without remorse, and yet his consuming devotion to Rothstein’s novels, and his enduring faith in the character of Jimmy Gold, is something that any ardent reader can reluctantly, uneasily relate to. Over time, Morris’s bleak, warped life has shrunk in scope and focus, until the stolen notebooks have become the central point of his existence, the promise they hold sustaining him through his many terrible years in prison. His passion for Rothstein’s work, and the way it comforts him, keeping him tethered to a world he is otherwise drifting away from, is nearly as moving as it is unsettling.
King’s novels are arguably at their best—and most frightening—when his monsters are not supernatural beings, but human beings whose wretched backstories make them almost sympathetic; creatures whose flaws underscore the kinds of dark impulses we recognize within ourselves. A tour de force and worthy followup to Mr. Mercedes, Finders Keepers manages all at once to be a heart-racing thriller, a fascinating exploration of the relationship between readers, authors, and books, and a haunting story of the powerful impact that literature can have on our lives.