King's Highway pt. 81: End of Watch

"He'll look up how to change it on the Internet. You can find anything on the Internet, he has discovered. Some of it is helpful. Some of it is interesting. Some of it is funny.

And some of it is fucking awful."

So, Stephen King released his latest last month. I won't bury the lede - I wasn't too enamored with either it or the Hodges trilogy that it concludes. As a novel, I thought it was a decent X-Files episode - or CSI two-parter, if you don't include the paranormal shenanigans in End of Watch - if you replace Mulder and Scully (or whomever) with three much less interesting characters.

That's the short of it. But I'm not here to tell you it's crap or any other hyperbole. I'll put it to you this way: if you liked Mr. Mercedes and/or the revelation that Brady had psychic powers in Finders Keepers, odds are you'll enjoy End of Watch

As for the long of it, after I finished reading I looked around the net for reviews. Most of them baffled me. Here's the New York Times:

"There are many stereotypical themes and devices in crime fiction: righteous cops shooting a criminal at the novel’s end, gender constructs salvaged from another age, invincible heroes and so on. End of Watch is burdened by none of them."

I don't know... here's a partial list of some stereotypical themes and devices that pop out to me: the serial killer who yells "Control!" and "Darkness!" to a row of computers; the serial killer who even verbalizes to his captured prey that "What this is about is control!"; everything about Brady for that matter, even the psychic powers if you open up the comparisons to other King books that is, not all-crime-fiction; the autistic-savant computer genius/ pop culture referencing awkward sidekick; hell, even the basic premise of the retired guy called out by a case from his past. Granted some of those are from Mr. Mercedes, but my point is End of Watch is far from unburdened with stereotypical themes and devices, in crime fiction or King-fiction.

But really, it's that "open up the comparisons to other King books" that is the kicker. There's precious little that's new in End of Watch, and what is new feels more like someone went back through the book and added a bunch of #hashtags and #teachablemoments (assault rifles, trans and gay teens - the scene where the gay teen shoots himself and the homophobic Dad "screams like a girl" is just cringeworthy - ad hominen cop shooting, racist microaggressions, etc. I'd like to think that someone did go back through back through the book with such aims in mind, but it's unfortunately plausible that King - going only by his Twitter feed and random statements to the press, including describing the mood of End of Watch as a reaction to the election cycle - did it all by himself. You can almost hear his media-of-choice playing over his shoulder and the sound of the keyboard. 

Kirkus starts off their review with "You know it’s a politicized time when the bad guy in a King novel loses points not strictly for being evil but for 'living like Donald Trump.'" And it's true, but it fails to mention how forced the observation is where it appears in the book. I object to it not for likening the presumptive GOP nominee to a mass murderer faking mental illness for dipomatic immunity and ass-wiping privileges. Hell, I'm an Under the Dome fan (the novel), and the political allusions in that are way more damning. It's just that the narrative stops too many times to let a different narrative drive. And there's just already too goddamn much of that in the world.

He's even said what inspired him was the election season, which is interesting because I couldn't help but feel King was commenting on the Bernie/Hillary soap opera currently bewitching his fellow Dem voters when Pete discusses his partner's gendered motivation for career advancement over being "real po-lice."

Anyway. Okay so it all wasn't for me, and I've grumpy opinions. BFD. I was heartened, though, to discover this Kemper guy's review on Goodreads. And if you'll forgive me, I'll just reproduce portions of it here - with commentary - then call it a night.

"Uncle Stevie tried his hand at doing a straight up crime thriller with Mr. Mercedes, but I found it to be a painful slog of poor plotting, uneven pacing, and a main character who came across as a reckless and irresponsible jackass. Finders Keepers had a pretty decent concept, but again it’s biggest flaw revolved around Hodges himself because he was almost completely irrelevant to the story which again highlighted that King struggles with mystery novels."

Agreed on all counts.

"Now here in the third book King has thrown in the towel on trying to write a straight-up action thriller/ detective novel and gone back to his roots with a villain who has psychic and telekinetic abilities. By introducing spooky powers King doesn’t have to rely on trying to put together a logical chain of events that depend on characters reasonably deducing things or behaving rationally. Instead, he can have them following hunches and feelings, and the supernatural element keeps him from having to twist the plot into pretzels to make it all work. Like a lot of King novels most of the characters also seem to have an uncanny knack for guessing at what's happening elsewhere which seems more acceptable with all the bizarre stuff going on."

This is an interesting observation. I've recently reread a whole bunch of King - The Tommyknockers, It, The Stand, From a Buick 8, and The Shining, to name them - and the sudden-acquisition-of-psychic-insight has really had me shaking my head. Where it works, it works; where it seems intrusive, there are usually other problems going on, narrative-wise. End of Watch is definitely in the latter category.

"So what you end up with is a trilogy that started as a very flawed crime thriller, had a second book with zero impact on the main story, and then goes paranormal in the third act with only some minor hints dropped in the previous book that it’s coming."


"The only reason to like these three books being stringed together is if King managed to make you love the main character, Bill Hodges, and his two assistants/friends. I didn’t. I mean, I really didn’t. When he wasn’t hiding critical evidence and inspiring a maniac to seek new levels of carnage Hodges came across as this bland, grandfatherly figure. Mostly he exists to ask tech questions of his younger colleagues who seem to look up to him for some reason. I never really buy him as a tough ex-cop, and he sure as hell isn’t a brilliant detective."

Again, agreed on all counts. And beyond Hodges and the other Finders Keepers personnel, Brady is a terrible character. He's worse than Henry Bowers on my personal list of King villains, not so much a character but a psychic toilet King fills with various projections than flushes for paragraph after paragraph. But more importantly, he's just implausible. And the character plays to King's worst tendencies - we don't have to ask why he makes the mistakes he does, despite demonstrating already-hard-to-swallow foresight, because he's crazy, because he hates, because banality of evil, etc.

King has created many memorable villains but more than a few poorly drawn ones; Brady might be the worst yet. 

"I’m left thinking that it would have been better for Uncle Stevie to just do this basic story as one book which could have been easily accomplished. Here's how: a cop stops a mass murderer and gives him brain damage in the process. After the cop has retired he hears about weird deaths surrounding the comatose patient and investigates. Hilarity ensues. Finders Keepers also could have been a better stand-alone book without trying to cram it into this narrative.(...) It really should have been one or two good Stephen King novels vs. two-thirds of a very flawed crime trilogy that Uncle Stevie tried to salvage by going weird in the last one."

That's pretty much all I have for you. I wish I liked it more but what can you do.

Two last things:

- Brady's telekinesis reads like an idea discarded. Nothing is made of it, it's simply a gateway to the whole Zappit-mind-control thing. Maybe he didn't have the latter in mind when he wrote Finders Keepers? The King Method working against him, perhaps? Still, at this point, why change lanes, seriously. And

- Pete is reading Inside View in one scene.   

(From The Night Flier.)

Next: Best of King's Mini-Series 


  1. Well, half a year later, I've finally read it.

    I'm pretty much in agreement with you. It's just not much of a series, and this finale isn't much of a finale. I think I probably have a bit more tolerance for Hodges and Holly than you do, but not by enough to matter.

    I agree that the New York Times review is baffling. I think some reviewers used to be scared to give King a good review, and I think others are now scared to give him a bad review. Just give the fuckin' guy a FAIR review...!

    Some of the same things that stuck out like sore thumbs to you had the same effect on me: the lives-like-Trump line (although, to be fair, that would have been fair game even before the campaign), the screamed-like-a-girl line (AWFUL), the social-climbing thing with Pete's partner.

    Brady's telekinetic abilities are so prevalent that he's staying in room 217 in the hospital. I'm of a very split mind about this plot development. It made me angry when it popped up in "Finders Keepers," but as I began reading "End of Watch" I found myself warming to it. And I thought King wrote some good scenes involving Brady developing his powers. All of this is fair game within the broad context of the King multiverse. But for the sake of all that is good and proper, I just don't need all of King's books to tie together. Don't need it; don't want it; will reject it when it seems forced, and it seems VERY forced here.

    I can't say I didn't enjoy reading the novel, but by the time it got to the final third or so, it felt very much as though King had gone into autopilot mode. It's not bad, but it all feels perfunctory and unimportant.

    So for me, this one is a dud. Better luck next time!

  2. Even King's worst is very readable stuff, but yeah this one just stuck in my proverbial craw.

    1. Indeed. To me, it read almost like a contractual-fulfillment-obligation type of thing. It went into my bottom-five list along with gems like "Lisey's Story" and "Rose Madder."

      But, as you say, nevertheless very readable.

      I'm in catch-up mode, so I immediately chased this novel with his short story "Cookie Jar," which I had not read despite its being out nearly a year. Good stuff, and I found myself breathing an almost-literal sigh of relief and thinking, "Ah, THERE'S the Stephen King I love!"

    2. Oh yeah, "Cookie Jar" was really good. I enjoyed that one.

      I just shrug off the ones I don't like. I wouldn't even mention it, really, except I've kind of obligated myself to write up something on every new King. Obligated is the wrong word, you know what I mean. Anyway, few writers have earned as much of a free hand with me than King has!

      I was going to respond to your other comment more in depth but then I figured you'd be writing this one up yourself sooner or later, so I'll just hang on until then. I will say, tho, that the scenes with Brady developing his powers were good, or most of them were good, for me, but having reread The Regulators prior to End of Watch I thought (maybe - I didn't line up the comparisons) most of it seem lifted (or just taken out of storage and reheated) from there.

    3. Hmm. I don't remember much about "The Regulators" at all, because that rings no bells with me. I take your word for it, of course! I'm looking forward to revisiting that one.

      I'm not sure I actually will write anything substantial about "End of Watch" anytime soon. I need to circle around to "Finders Keepers" before I do, and I doubt that will happen anytime soon. So let's talk about it here, by all means!

    4. By your command!

      Although I can't add much, just to this:

      "But for the sake of all that is good and proper, I just don't need all of King's books to tie together. Don't need it; don't want it; will reject it when it seems forced, and it seems VERY forced here."

      It does seem like something that really doesn't need to happen. I mean, hell, make it 218. Drive everyone crazy. Or 1409 or something.

      On your next revisit of Regulators, I'll be curious to see what you think - not just of the scenes where Tak starts to use Audrey and the others as puppets. I don't think it's derivative, per se, just End of Watch seemed kind of a pastiche of too many things we've seen elsewhere, better-utilized.