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'End of Watch': King is master of entertaining with horror

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By Laura Farmer, correspondent

Instead of keeping us up at night with fears of a rabid dog or a possessed car, Stephen King goes for a horror closer to home in his latest book, “End of Watch”: What if our beloved hand-held devices could be programed to convince us to commit suicide?

This realistic quandary builds throughout the final book in his Mr. Mercedes trilogy. If you haven’t been keeping up with Detective Hodges and crew, don’t worry: King catches even the most green of readers up to speed in the first fifty pages, making this fast-paced summer read one to check out — even by those who may have been averse to King in the past.

Here’s why: Suicide is a very real, very important topic, and King does the conversation justice.

Retired police detective K. Bill Hodges and his investigative partner, the oddly endearing detective Holly Gibney notice something strange when investigating a murder suicide: a Zappit game console, something out of place in an elderly woman’s apartment. In the days and weeks that follow, there are more suicides — and more Zappits found near the victims. Hodges’ former partner, detective Pete Huntley, is quick to write it off as coincidence, but Hodges isn’t so sure.

He follows the trail of evidence, even when it brings him to an unlikely place: the bedside of Brady Hartsfield, the Mercedes killer who has been in a vegetative since Gibney gave him a firm whap to the head in 2009. He can’t speak, rarely makes eye contact, and spends most of his days drooling in his bed.

But behind the mask of catatonia, Hartsfield is awake. Thanks to some experimental medication, he’s gained new abilities that will, he hopes, make him “the Jim Jones of the twenty-first century.”

Perhaps the most terrifying aspect of King’s new novel the plausibility of the destruction. After all, thanks to social media, “ordinary fears, the ones (we) live with as a kind of unpleasant background noise, can be turned into ravening monsters. Small balloons of paranoia can be inflated until they are as big as floats in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.”

An immensely entertaining read, “End of Watch” may make you a little more cautious with your smartphone. And a little more courageous when it comes to talking about mental health.

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