End of Watch by Stephen King (archives)
Originally written in 2016. Also on Goodreads.
Twenty-five percent of the
books I've read this year have been by Stephen King and the most recent
one is End of Watch. I've been rereading/reliving all of his books and
jumping from his early work to his most recent is jarring. I enjoyed End
of Watch, but all I could see in it was how it underlined some of the
ways that King's writing has evolved.
The series is about a retired cop, Bill Hodges, called back in for one last crime he can't resist. That doesn't sound like a typical Stephen King plot, nor is Bill the old-style King protagonist. Bill has a drinking problem, but compared to earlier characters, it's pretty minor and he even has control of his temper. After Charlie Decker, Jack Torrance, Ben Richards, Barton Dawes, etc, Bill is a calm, rational, good man. It's refreshing. He doesn't even relapse on his drinking during the series! Furthermore, there are no supernatural elements until the third book. And it's a trilogy - something unprecedented for King. The vast majority of King's books are stand-alone works. Yes, he does interweave his works with references; for instance, in this one, Brady is living in Room 217, a number that should mean something to fans of The Shining, but it's rare for him to produce a series.
Also striking are the many ways King hasn't changed. He is still a brilliant author who, I would argue, specializes in character. The break out star is Holly. While technically a sidekick, Holly is the most fascinating, sweet, brave, complex character in the whole series. Sometimes, in the older books, King's characters can fall flat (Salem's Lot and Christine offer examples of this), but none of the people in this series seem flat. Even minor ones, such as Barbara or the poor kids that get featured later on, all have stories of their own. And Brady, while a more terrifying presence in the first book, still makes for an excellent villain. While I do enjoy nuance in my characters, it can be nice to have an irredeemable, unrelenting villain that you can safely hate. Sometimes I like having a clear line between good and evil. It makes things simpler.
Though, King's books usually aren't so simple. End of Watch wraps up everything in a tidy, predictable bow and while the ending isn't entirely happy, it's nowhere near as bleak as Salem's Lot or as heart-wrenching as The Shining. Heck, the main characters are even (for the most part) better off in the end than they were at the start - something that doesn't usually happen in a King book.
Now, I know a lot of this stands out to me because the most recent King books I read were Christine and Misery, and assuming things about the author based on characters in the book is a risky guessing game, but I like to think that this signifies a more together, optimistic King than the cynical man who wrote Rage or Roadwork. There seems to be a possible trend towards happier endings. It's hard to say without further research. Darn, I guess I'll just have to read more of King's books to see. I see that my local library has IT on audio-cd...
What a tragedy for me.