Outside of his Dark Tower novels, Stephen King isn’t really a writer who offers readers out and out sequels to previous works. Yes, he built up his fictional towns and connected elements from some of the novels together in a way that rewarded his Constant Readers, but there weren’t many novels that picked up on the characters or events from previous installments.
Until the last five or so years when King has shown an interest in playing again in some of his own fictional sandboxes. Last year we got a sequel to The Shining which while not as great as the original was a solid, entertaining book. Now King visits the world of Bill Hodges again with the middle novel of a trilogy about those characters with Finders Keepers.
And yet for a sequel to last year’s Mr. Mercedes, King keeps Hodges and company off stage for the first half of Finders Keepers. Instead, King gives us several new characters, all connected by their love of the best-selling author (and perhaps literary) genius of John Rothstein.
Morris Bellamy loves the work of Rothstein — well, at least his first two novels. Feeling betrayed by the choices made for Rothstein’s lead character of Morris Gold and certain the reclusive author has written more, Bellamy breaks into Rothstein’s house, stealing some money and notebooks that contain a couple of short stories and two new novels. Bellamy also murders Rothstein, throwing a monkey wrench into his plan to read and then sell the notebooks to a wealthy investor through his library/book collector friend. Bellamy is eventually caught on other charges and sent to jail, but not before he buries the money and notebooks in the woods in a secure location, just waiting for the day he can be released from prison and get his grubby mitts back on them.
During that time, Pete Saubers finds the buried treasure, using the money to help his family through a turbulent time (it’s connected to the events in Mr. Mercedes) and falling under the spell of Rothstein’s writing. As the money begins to run out, Pete decides he might need to come clean about the notebooks, though he wants to profit from them. This leads him to the book dealer known to Bellamy and puts these two literary fans on a collision course.
As I read Finders Keepers, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Kevin Smith’s response when people complain about George Lucas’ tinkering with the original Star Wars trilogy and the three prequels. Smith has often said that it’s Lucas universe and his playground and he’s allowed to monkey with it however he wants. The fans don’t own it, Lucas does.
King’s creation of the characters of Saubers and Bellamy underscores this a bit. The two are different sides of the same coin — fans who are a bit obsessed and take a bit too much ownership of literary and fictional characters and universes. In many ways, it feels like King (like Smith) is talking to the haters who don’t like the way a story goes because it doesn’t match up with their own expectations or the way they imagined the story going in their minds (or even their own fan-fic). And while Finders Keepers goes a bit farther than a majority of fans might, it’s still not difficult to imagine an obsessed fan taking things to the point that Bellamy does in this novel.
It all adds up for a fascinating story about the power of fiction and the literary world. King has given us glimpses into the mind and world of a writer before and what can happen when fans go a bit too far. Finders Keepers is just another solid example of that world.
As for Bill Hodges and company, they’re more secondary characters this time around, though the novel’s final pages hint that King may be setting us up for a heck of conclusion to this trilogy when it hits shelves.