Finders Keepers by Stephen King, book review: Sequel sees a horror master reign again

Finders Keepers wears its art on its sleeve, paying tribute to John D MacDonald's horror-thriller The Executioners

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The Independent Culture

Finders Keepers is a sequel of sorts to 2014's Mr Mercedes, a novel so in thrall to crime fiction conventions that, I guess, a series was an inevitability. King's recent torrential output has often felt like homage to the writers who formed his imagination but Mr Mercedes was so slavishly derivative that the prospect of more Bill Hodges (his hackneyed private eye) and more Brady Hartsfield (its absurd villain) felt as necessary as more Bernie in Weekend at Bernie's II.

Finders Keepers proves a distinct upgrade. It still wears its art on its sleeve, paying tribute to John D MacDonald's horror-thriller The Executioners, which, as King can't resist informing us, became the movie(s) Cape Fear.

A more tantalising parallel is King's own Misery. Instead of an infatuated reader torturing a bestselling author, an infatuated reader kills an acclaimed man of letters. The writer, John Rothstein, is a reclusive mash-up of JD Salinger, Philip Roth, Richard Yates, John Cheever and, most obviously, John Updike.

Rothstein's number one fan is Morris Bellamy, and like Misery's Annie Wilkes, his beef, charmingly, is literary critical. Before murdering the novelist, Bellamy shrieks objections to the conclusion of Jimmy Gold's trilogy. Only later does he discover Gold's adventures continue in several unpublished and priceless moleskin notebooks which he promptly steals. These documents become the focus for two jealous obsessives: Bellamy, whose imprisonment turns him into a vengeful Max Cady, and young Paul Saubers, whose father just happened to be injured by (drum roll) Brady Hartsfield. Spooky.

The shift in emphasis – from threatening a writer's body to threatening his body of work – offers a tantalising glimpse into where 67-year-old King is right now. If Misery reflected anxieties about celebrity, Finders Keepers suggests he is now preoccupied with his literary reputation.

Just as intriguingly, King still seems to view his fanatical readers with amused contempt. While Bellamy's love of John Rothstein drives him to sociopathic rage, Paul's adoration causes him to break out in acne, retreat into solitude and commit well-intentioned crimes.

Still, Finders Keepers generates genuine suspense: the plot of the novel hinges neatly on the plot of a novel. And King's depiction of the Saubers struggling through hard times is genuinely poignant. These days he is far better when chronicling the minutiae of family life than creating nightmares. Or are they one and the same?