End of Watch by Stephen King
Genre: Thriller, Crime, Mystery, Supernatural
Trigger Warning: Suicide
In Room 217 of the Lakes Region Traumatic Brain Injury Clinic, something has awakened. Something evil. Brady Hartsfield, perpetrator of the Mercedes Massacre, where eight people were killed and many more were badly injured, has been in the clinic for five years, in a vegetative state. According to his doctors, anything approaching a complete recovery is unlikely. But behind the drool and stare, Brady is awake, and in possession of deadly new powers that allow him to wreak unimaginable havoc without ever leaving his hospital room.
Retired police detective Bill Hodges, the unlikely hero of Mr. Mercedes and Finders Keepers, now runs an investigation agency with his partner, Holly Gibney—the woman who delivered the blow to Hartsfield’s head that put him on the brain injury ward. When Bill and Holly are called to a suicide scene with ties to the Mercedes Massacre, they find themselves pulled into their most dangerous case yet, one that will put their lives at risk, as well as those of Bill’s heroic young friend Jerome Robinson and his teenage sister, Barbara. Brady Hartsfield is back, and planning revenge not just on Hodges and his friends, but on an entire city.
In the final instalment of the Bill Hodges trilogy, Brady Hartsfield is back with a vengeance equipped with newfound supernatural powers in a quest to orchestrate mass suicide. In a race against time, Bill Hodges and partner Holly Gibney must find a way to stop him before Brady can lay claim to more suicide victims and before Hodges’s own health deteriorates.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and gave it four stars. While it didn’t pack quite the punch that Mr. Mercedes (the first in the series) did in its execution, it was a fast-paced, thrilling and, often, disturbing read and covered a relevant and widespread contemporary issue – suicide. King offers a multitude of examples of suicide triggers but where King fails is his inability to offer a satisfying resolution. While many may argue that it is not King’s place to do so, one could also argue that the least we can expect is to ensure those who commit suicide or experience suicidal thoughts are not shamed for that fact. As the book wraps up, Bill Hodges offers his perspective:
“… suicide is a fact of life.
He looks over at the card players as he says this, especially the two baldies. One looks good (as Hodges himself looks good), but the other is cadaverous and hollow-eyed. One foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel, Hodges’s father would have said. And the thought that comes to him is too complicated – too fraught with a terrible mixture of anger and sorrow – to be articulated. It’s about how some people carelessly squander what others would sell their souls to have: a healthy, pain-free body. And why? Because they’re too blind, too emotionally scarred, or too self-involved to see past the earth’s dark curve to the next sunrise. Which always comes, if one continues to draw breath.”
A few pages before this, Hodges also uses the phrase: “man up.” Now the line can be very easily blurred here, the question to ask is if King is projecting his own narrative through Bill Hodges, or is this only specific to the character? What we do know is that individuals who experience suicidal thoughts would not especially appreciate being told that they are being too self-involved, and that being compared to a dying man negates the validity of their feelings and would cause them to feel guilty. It’s the age-old mindset where physical health trumps and is valued over mental health. Better research on mental health would have allowed for a more understanding, compassionate and satisfying response and resolution instead of serving to make those already in a terrifying place feel more guilt-ridden.
Brady Hartsfield, now referred to by Bill Hodges as the Suicide Prince, is as villainous as ever and his capacity for evil surpasses expectations as he has little to no moral conscience even concerning the most innocent of human beings. We delve deeper into his backstory where we learn about Brady’s growing frustration as his technological inventions gather no fruits as somebody else has already gotten to them before him. His mother believed that his inventions would make them grossly rich one day and as he gradually realises that they won’t, he builds up an increasing resentment towards society which consequently results in him orchestrating mass murders as “payback.”
In this last instalment, not only is Brady able to inhabit others bodies as his alias “Z-Boy,” he also seizes control and ownership of Zappit, a failed games console company, where he manipulates the demo game – included in the games console – called Fishin’ Hole to coerce and influence teenage Zappit users into committing suicide through telekinesis. Here, King draws elements of the Chamber of Secrets as the way Brady controls his victims is very much similar to the way Tom Riddle heavily influenced Ginny Weasley through his diary. As Brady’s feigned soothing and caring voice combined with the hypnotic effect of the demo game, the victims very easily come to consider Brady to be their friend. However, what made Ginny’s growing dependence on Riddle’s Diary believable is just that – it was growing. In contrast, here, the victims were so easily influenced into committing suicide in such a short and unrealistic span of time. While it is understandable that these thoughts were already dormant, even to pressurise it to the fore and, thereafter, act on it was disconcertingly easy.
The story flits between multiple perspectives and while, for a large part, I enjoyed this as all the characters had unique and distinct perspectives, the flashbacks to Brady’s history made the timeline rather incoherent and overwhelming. Nevertheless, it was easy to deduce the gist of it and served to make it exciting and varied.
The final showdown between Brady and Hodges felt rather anti-climactic as Hodges and Holly are easily saved at the last-minute by Jerome Robinson, an unofficial part of the Finders Keepers squad. Jerome isn’t a prominent feature in this instalment as he was in the previous two and it would seem this was King’s way of bringing the trio back together to save the day. Before the showdown, Hodges kisses Holly which wasn’t necessary and felt rather forced. Throughout the series, Hodges and Holly are more better presented as a father-daughter/benefactor-beneficiary relationship and thus, the kiss and declarations of love leaves an odd taste.
Overall, End of Watch is as fascinating and gripping as the Fishin’ Hole demo game and if you are after a thriller that will get you out of a reading slump, this book is for you. You may have to suspend your belief at times but weirdly not because of Brady’s newfound telekinesis powers which ramped up the thrill factor. There is plenty of food for thought as the triggers for suicide are explored in a variety of ways from a diverse range of people and King impressively represented them all very well e.g. Barbara Robinson being called “black-ish,” paedophilia, homophobia, school pressure, loneliness, disability, etc. This is definitely a book for book club as there are several themes that would make for a great discussion and I would definitely recommend this book.
“The teachers talk about gender equality, and racial equality. They have a zero tolerance policy, and they mean it – at least most of them do, I guess – but anyone can walk through the halls when the classes are changing and pick out the black kids and the Chinese transfer students and the Muslim girl, because there’s only two dozen of us and we’re like a few grains of pepper that somehow got into the salt shaker.”
If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts and would like to talk to someone, please call:
United Kingdom 🇬🇧 116 123
United States 🇺🇸 1-800-273-8255
Canada 🇨🇦 1 800 456 4566
Ireland 🇮🇪 116 123
Philippines 🇵🇭 2919
Australia 🇦🇺 131 114
Have you read End of Watch/Bill Hodges trilogy? What are your thoughts on the series? Let me know in the comments.
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