King's Highway pt. 78: Finders Keepers

Just finished - you?

I'll proceed on the assumption that you have. 


The plot, as it was announced to the world on Stephen King's official website back in February:

"A masterful, intensely suspenseful novel about a reader whose obsession with a reclusive writer goes far too far—a book about the power of storytelling, starring the same trio of unlikely and winning heroes King introduced in Mr. Mercedes. “Wake up, genius.” So begins King’s instantly riveting story about a vengeful reader. The genius is John Rothstein, an iconic author who created a famous character, Jimmy Gold, but who hasn’t published a book for decades. Morris Bellamy is livid, not just because Rothstein has stopped providing books, but because the nonconformist Jimmy Gold has sold out for a career in advertising. 

Morris kills Rothstein and empties his safe of cash, yes, but the real treasure is a trove of notebooks containing at least one more Gold novel. Morris hides the money and the notebooks, and then he is locked away for another crime. Decades later, a boy named Pete Saubers finds the treasure, and now it is Pete and his family that Bill Hodges, Holly Gibney, and Jerome Robinson must rescue from the ever-more deranged and vengeful Morris when he’s released from prison after thirty-five years. 

Not since Misery has King played with the notion of a reader whose obsession with a writer gets dangerous. Finders Keepers is spectacular, heart-pounding suspense, but it is also King writing about how literature shapes a life—for good, for bad, forever."

If you don't mind, I'll just unpack the above a little before proceeding.

- "A masterful, intensely suspenseful novel..." I found this to be true. Masterfully constructed, and I've got to agree with Kevin Quigley over at Charnel House (big surprise) that "the final third of the book that moves so urgently that the actual words get in the way of the reading."

- "A book about the power of storytelling, starring the same trio of unlikely and winning heroes King introduced in Mr. Mercedes..." It is, somewhat about the power of storytelling, and the legacy of authors, but not quite in the same vein as, say, Lisey's Story. Or my understanding of Lisey's Story, I should say, from reviews I've read - still haven't made my way through that one. (Somewhere in the future, there is a cabin by a lake, and I am reading it in an armchair by the window. Will blogs even exist in this future-time scenario? Only time will tell.)

As for the trio of characters from Mister Mercedes, they don't appear until almost 150 pages in. And are probably my least favorite part of the book, although that doesn't mean I didn't enjoy them, just that the saga playing out from Morris Bellamy's and Peter Saunders' povs was more compelling to me. Hodges, Jerome, and Holly intersect with that narrative pretty seamlessly, though.

- "John Rothstein, an iconic author who created a famous character, Jimmy Gold, but who hasn’t published a book for decades..." The reclusive author (in New Hampshire, no less) who is sitting on reams and reams of unpublished work that he never intends to publish certainly brings to mind J.D. Salinger. Jimmy Gold brings to mind - somewhat - Harry Angstrom from John Updike's Rabbit novels, though to me he (Jimmy - particularly his "Shit don't mean shit" mantra) sounded a little like Donald Westlake's Parker. (Someone King has already homage-d in The Dark Half.)

But none of the above are perfect fits. And neither is John D. MacDonald, to whom Finders Keepers is dedicated. Perhaps MacDonald, though, is closest. The Travis McGee books are mentioned by name, and Travis certainly resembles Jimmy Gold, as well. If Parker is too dark, Travis is too light - Jimmy Gold, from the sound of it, would fit somewhere between them. (He sounds most, perhaps, like Don Draper.) Also: rumors abounded for years that there was one (possibly more) "lost" Travis McGee book. And Travis won his houseboat, the Busted Flush, in a poker game - something referenced in Finders Keepers as "something that only happens in novels or on TV." 

So, there are enough allusions to make me think King may have meant MacDonald, sure, but more likely, Rothstein is simply an amalgam of all the above. And himself, as well - and we, Constant Reader, are an amalgam of Morris and Pete, as well. Sometimes not as successfully. I was pleased to see the
Boston Globe agreed with me:

 "The literary critique at gunpoint in the opening scene is only one of many moments in the novel that unites books and violence. Near the end, Bellamy trains a gun on Saubers, who momentarily placates the madman by revealing something tantalizing from one of Rothstein’s unpublished works. Intrigued, the gunman’s eyes widen, and he asks, simply: 'What happens?' The desire to know what happens next is precisely what drives readers through King’s 400-plus pages. Oddly this makes Bellamy a kind of clumsy proxy for the avid reader, albeit a twisted, nightmarish one. (...) Deeper themes about the power of fiction feel somewhat grafted onto the suspenseful story. When Saubers, for instance, has a crazy man pointing a gun at him, it seems unlikely that he would reflect on 'the core power of make-believe.'" 

"Time will pass! Tempus will fugit!  Owen's poem may fall away from your mind, in which case your verdict of is-stupid will have turned out to be correct. For you, at least. But for some of you, it will recur. And recur. And recur. Each time it does, the steady march of your maturity will deepen its resonance. Each time that poem steals back into your mind, it will seem a little less stupid, and a little more vital."

Amen, brother.


How does it rate as a sequel, or as the middle book in a planned trilogy? Pretty good, for my money - I actually enjoyed it more than Mr. Mercedes. Mainly because I wasn't a huge fan of that book's antagonist, Brady, who appears here, as well. (More on him a moment.)

It's not as lyrical a book as Mercedes, which is funny - I don't recall that one as all that particularly "lyrical," but when I revisited my review for it just now, all the quotations from the text really jumped out at me. King, generously rewarded as he is, still doesn't get the respect he deserves as a stylist. He uses the most basic building blocks of the game - crafting a great sentence, turning the right phrase, nailing the right simile, etc. - to great effect.

This time around, I noted only one - and perhaps it's not even a King original but an expression I've never heard before: "An uncle with Roman hands and Russian fingers." Whichever it is, it's great.

Anyway, as a sequel to Mercedes, it might seem a little like some other story King had hanging around that he just hijacked for use as a Hodges, Jerome, and Holly story. But in another way, it felt a little like From Russia With Love, where Bond doesn't even come into things for many chapters. Allowing the story to build without him makes the world-of-Bond more expansive than it would be had Bond appeared from page one, and I'd say the same thing for the world of Hodges et al.

Holly is still a little too quirky, and Jerome is still a little too eagerly loved by every character in the novel. (King manages to keep his occasional touch of Stepin Fetchit Tourettes in check better than in Mercedes; Tyrone Feelgood Delight, Jerome's shuck-and-jive-parody that he lapses into, is semi-retired.) But they're all likeable characters and easy to spend time with, even if we're essentially watching them solve a mystery the reader already knows to answer to. But that's not a dealbreaker by any stretch. I'm not sure how this story could be told any other way, actually - overall, its structure makes a lot of sense.

The novel ends with the same kind of suspenseful cross-cutting that Mercedes (not to mention other King works like Needful Things or Insomnia) did.



The most compelling aspect of it all is something I didn't think I'd enjoy at all - the continuation of Brady's story from Mr. Mercedes. He ended that book in a comatose state, if you recall, and he's still in one in Finders Keepers. We learn that Hodges visits him from time to time and baits him, trying to prove Brady is faking.

When this first happened, I rolled my eyes - you're not going to drag this out and bring him back now, are you? The idea didn't appeal to me, for the reasons I laid out in my Mercedes review. And yet hints are dropped in the very last couple of paragraphs of Keepers that made me reconsider everything. I'm hesitant to discuss it too much here, but if the last book of the trilogy moves things into a supernatural direction - as it is hinted it very may well might - I'm all for it.


Not a bad little story. It's a single, maybe a RBI, maybe not. I will say, though, that I enjoyed it more than Mr. Mercedes and if the just-mentioned supernatural-plotline picks up in pt. 3, I might even come to enjoy Mercedes more by virtue of that. 

I'll skip the King's Highway Scorecard this time around, but where would it fit in my rankings? Haven't revised them yet - probably somewhere in the 30s, not sure exactly where as of yet.

37. The Dark Tower: Drawing of the Three
36. The Dark Half
35. Pet Sematary
34. Bag of Bones
33. The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon
32. The Dead Zone
31. Revival


  1. I have to admit, for me, this should have been just a stand-alone story. The fact that its part of the Hodges trilogy just seems grafted on somehow, when the story of Pete and Morris just seems strong enough to carry its own weight. I'm not sure that it can handle the extra-baggage of a series that it really doesn't seem like it should belong to.

    Still, the parts with Pete and his ruminations on books are where the story comes alive for me, I think they might be some of the best stuff King has written since 11/22/63. Shame it had to get latched onto another series.


    1. While I certainly agree I think the Pete/ Morris story would've worked all on its own, I rather liked how it fits as pt. 2 of the Mercedes trilogy.

      Speaking of 11/22/63, I keep smiling when I think of that pic of James Franco, King, and JJ Abrams that's been making the rounds lately. I have a good feeling about that one.

  2. I had conflicting feelings about this novel, but on the whole I enjoyed it quite a bit. I mean, even when King is bad, he's pretty good, and I don't think he's bad here at all.

    (1) There is indeed some thematic overlap with "Lisey's Story," which also includes a lot of airtime for the idea of a deceased author's unpublished work. In both that book and this book, the underlying idea of what King is saying makes me a bit uncomfortable. In no way would I end up as a mask-wearing villain to get at King's unpublished manuscripts, but do I believe that material like that is of inherent value? You bet I do. Lookit, King is inarguably one of the primary forces to shape American pop culture during the latter half of the previous century; gaining a better understanding of how and why that talent worked isn't something one ought to feel weird about wishing to achieve. King is a very important figure; much more important than the fictional Rothstein seems to be. So the fact that he has now written two novels in which people who are interested in his ephemera are portrayed as lunatics is not something that sits 100% well with me. But in this case, if not "Lisey's Story," it's resulted in a good novel; so there's that.

    (2) As a sequel to "Mr. Mercedes," I thought it was just fine. The use of the Mercedes killings (and Hodges' investigation of same) as a connective device made complete sense to me. I thought King made a masterful decision in not bringing Bill and company into the novel at the outset; he allowed the new plotline to take center stage and then connected it to the first novel only once he had his hooks into us with the new stuff. The FRWL comparison is very apt; and maybe those Fleming novels is where I developed my appreciation for this particular technique!

    (3) The phrase "Roman hands and Russian fingers" also appears in "Needful Things." I suspect King didn't create it, but that it was something his mother, or an aunt, or a contemporary of one of those, said when he was a child, and that it stuck with him for years before he worked it in. Or it might have come to him via Tabitha. Or none of those! I'm speculating, obviously.

    (4) You and I were more or less in agreement regarding Brady's continuance. However, I seem to be much more negative than you are on the seeming collision of this story with the supernatural. I'll happily give King room to move in that regard, but I'm always disappointed when he injects the supernatural into an otherwise realistic tale; I don't like it in "Cujo," I HATE it in "Rose Madder," and I'm already working myself up to hate it in "End of Watch." That said...

    (5) It's clear that the three books are going to have a specific set of thematic concerns as a trilogy, and I'm looking forward to seeing how that plays out. This is something King has arguably never done before, and I always give his experiments a thumbs up, whether I think they work or not. So maybe the Brady-as-Carrie plotline (or whatever it ends up being) will work; stranger things have happened.

    Always fun to take a new ride on King's Highway!

    1. It's a fair point, definitely, about inserting the supernatural where it might not belong. For me, I was so not into Brady as a character, that it would take something like that to elevate my interest in his continued appearance in the series. But, it'll all depend on how it plays out, of course.

      Also a fair point about how King might be portraying his Constant Readers (or exaggerated versions of them) as ghouls or lunatics. King and I often have wide disagreements on things of this nature - i.e. what seems like a legitimate and perfectly reasonable interest in something seems to him a waste of time, or perverse, or something - but like you say, if it results in a good novel, I'm happy to shrug it off.

      Good to know re: Roman fingers/ Russian hands!

    2. I'm sure King has had a lot of contact with nutball fans, so I'd imagine that he's been given plenty of reason to be suspicious. I also suspect he's been given plenty of reasons to be wary of academics (and faux-academics). So I don't really blame him for returning to the themes that play into the Rothstein story in "Finders Keepers," because I'm sure he has a very different perspective on that stuff than I do. How could he not?

    3. Got "Rose Red" on for background tonight and the scene where everyone's getting to know one another over pitchers the clairvoyant guy (Locke's Dad) says "Roman hands and Russian fingers." The Bingo scorecard officially has a new item!

    4. I wonder if King realizes he's used it that many times, or if he forgets. I bet he remembers, but figures nobody else will.

    5. If King, Inc. is on its game, someone in the lower rungs of the organization is sending a message up the ranks - "They're onto us!"

      I'm almost sure this message is routed to the "No need" pile, next to the "Happy Crappy"s and "I don't give Shit One"s.

    6. Well, the Tet Corporation employs people for that specific purpose, so hey, who knows. As long as I don't get a visit from a Low Man, it's all good.