“End of Watch”

end-of-watch

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

The final book in Stephen King’s Bill Hodges trilogy, published in 2016. I read a first edition hardcover.

2.5 out of 5 stars.

The plot: Retired Detective Bill Hodges has his final showdown with mass murderer (and supposedly vegetative) Brady Hartsfield, who is somehow instigating suicides from his hospital room.

End of Watch is a lackluster end to a so-so series, introducing outright magic to what was once a relatively centered reality. In the first book (Mr. Mercedes), I enjoyed watching King work through a plot without the help of the supernatural. No more. The villain’s main tools are telekinesis and astral projection and characters make important leaps of logic because, well, they’ve got a feeling, man.

On a technical level, King’s writing is as good as always. Pacing, sentence structure, rhythm – it’s all there, all great. End of Watch switches between present and past tense, which makes it easier for King to clearly go back and forth in time without making his description of past events seem like heavy-handed flashbacks. He utilizes this very well in all of the Bill Hodges books.

The plot is where End of Watch fizzles out.


 

[1] Reference:

He once read a science fiction novel called The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.

(p.16)

A 1966 science fiction novel by Robert A. Heinlein, about a Lunar colony’s revolt against rule from Earth.

[2]

Dead people never look more dead than in police photos.

(p.31)

[3] Reference:

He’ll have to stock up on PG Tips. Hell, buy stock. He’s really tired of the constant stomachache.

(p.31)

A brand of tea in the United Kingdom. The name was originally Pre-Gest-Tee, implying that it could be drunk prior to eating food as a digestive aid. The “Tips” refers to the fact that only the tips (the top two leaves and bud) of the tea plants are used in the blend.

Is this a common tea in the US? Is it a midwestern thing? I’ve never heard of it here in New England.

[4]

Holly is a different woman now, but traces of the old Holly still remain. And that’s okay with Hodges. After all, everyone casts a shadow.

(p.44)

[5] Reference:

Eating wool probably isn’t good for her, and certainly not for the Fair Isle she’s wearing.

(p.48)

A traditional knitting technique used to create patterns with multiple colors. It is named after Fair Isle, a tiny island in the north of Scotland, that forms part of the Shetland Islands.

[6] King-verse:

She is drawn down to Room 217 as if by an invisible cable. Only this morning she was forced to go in there because Dr. Babineau insists she accompany him on rounds, and Brady is his star patient.

(p.59)

In The Shining, Room 217 of the Overlook is where the most sinister events occur. (Kubrick changed it to 237 for his film.)

[7] Reference:

A little tune that she remembers from childhood is playing: By the sea, by the sea, by the beautiful sea…

(p.77)

“By the Beautiful Sea” is a song published in 1914, with music written by Harry Carroll and lyrics written by Harold R. Atteridge. The Heidelberg Quintet’s recording topped the American music charts for six weeks in the summer of 1914.

[8] Reference:

“He’ll put it on YouTube. And Facebook. And Bad Medicine dot-com.”

(p.82)

The domain badmedicine.com is for sale.

[9]

Pete Huntly may be a bit of a plodder, but plodders are usually thorough, you had to give them that.

(p.88)

[10]

Cynthia has never actually missed her mother, because there was never all that much to miss.

(p.98)

[11] Reference:

Boom, boom, out go the lights.

Angel, angel down we go.

(p.105)

Angel, Angel, Down We Go is a 1969 film. But I think Brady might be referencing a Morrissey song (“Angel, Angel, Down We Go Together”), which ties to Brady’s obsession with suicide. (I also feel like Brady mentioned being a Morrissey fan in Mr. Mercedes, but I don’t have a copy of the book around to verify…)

Also, “Boom Boom (Out Go the Lights)” is a song originally recorded by blues musician Little Walter (1930 – 1968) and more popularly covered by the Pat Travers Band in 1979. It’s a nasty number about finding a cheating partner and punching her out.

[12] Reference:

The student reported depressed reflexes, a dilated and fixed left pupil, and a positive right Babinski.

(p.106)

A Babinksi sign is a neurological examination based upon what the big toe does when the sole of the foot is stimulated. A positive Babinski sign means the toe goes up (which is a sign of a problem in the central nervous system. Even more abnormal is it happening on one side and not the other. It is common but wrong to say that the Babinski sign is positive or negative; it is present or absent. It is named after French neurologist Joseph Babinski (1857 – 1932).

[13] Holly is supposed to be our logical, intelligent character. But she spouts off the worst nonsense of the book:

“Telekinesis, sometimes called psychokinesis, is a documented phenomenon.”

(p.125)

 

“When I hit him with your Happy Slapper, Bill, it could have rearranged his brains somehow. Given him access to the ninety percent of gray matter we never use.”

(p.275)

We should be past this by now.

“Personality projection is well documented. In fact, it’s the second-most-common cause of so-called demonic possession. The most common being schizophrenia. I saw a documentary about it on-”

“No,” Hodges says. “Not possible. Not.”

“Don’t blind yourself to the idea. (…) You shouldn’t turn away from the evidence just because it points in a direction you don’t want to go. You know Brady was different when he regained consciousness. He came back with certain abilities most people don’t have. Telekinesis may only have been one of them.”

“I never saw him actually moving shit around.”

“But you believe the nurses who did. Don’t you?”

(p.359-360)

I now view Holly as someone who believes anything she sees on television. I don’t think this is what King was going for.

[14]

Hours ago he found out he has only months to live. Now he’s discussing the volume of his cell phone.

(p.134)

[15] Reference:

Emily Dickinson said her poem was her letter to the world that never wrote to her.

(p.138)

The beginning of one of Dickinson’s poems:

This is my letter to the world,

That never wrote to me –

The simple news that Nature told,

With tender majesty

 

[16] Mistake? Norma Wilmer tells Bill:

“I tried to tell [Babineau] about Ruth, and he blew right past me. Not that he’s apt to care when he finds out.”

(p.154)

But Norma was present when Babineau told Bill about Ruth’s death. Babineau has clearly already found out and Norma knows what his reaction was.

[17] Reference:

Hodges flashes on the title of an old mystery novel, Trent’s Last Case, and smiles a little.

(p.161)

 

Trent’s Last Case, and all that.

(p.370)

A detective novel written by E.C. Bentley and first published in 1913. It is actually the first novel that Philip Trent appears. At the end, Trent vows to never again attempt to dabble in crime detection because he gets everything wrong. (Apparently, he tries again because Bentley wrote more with the character.)

 

[18] Reference:

“When it comes to the Mercedes Killer, DA is like honeybadger, Bill. He don’t give a shit.

(p.178)

I somehow missed this meme.

[19] Reference:

[Holly’s] high school nickname was Jibba-Jibba.

(p.181)

Jibba is slang for a joint or someone who can roll a good joint but doesn’t have the pot. This made no sense to me at first, but later in the book, Holly rolls some good joints with someone else’s pot. So…

Urbandictionary also has an entry saying jibba is “a slow minded and dimwitted individual, who lacks the ability to think for himself.”

 

Who knows if King was going for any of this or just came up with a weird-sounding insult.

[20] Reference:

Brady’s class had been assigned a long CIA report, published in 1995 and declassified shortly after 9/11. It was called “The Operational Potential of Subliminal Perception,” and explained how computers could be programmed to transmit messages so rapidly that the brain recognized them not as messages per se, but as original thoughts.

(p.202)

Real report. Looks like it was declassified just before 9/11 (August 3, 2011).

[21]

“How did I get into this?” he moans.

“The same way everybody gets into everything,” Brady says gently. “One step at a time.”

(p.214)

[22] Reference:

“ ‘Bad news, some nut got the ‘Round Here concert canceled. Want some good news? Maybe even a free gift? Go to badconcert.com.’ ”

(p.218)

badconcert.com doesn’t exist.

I was under the impression that if you put a website into a movie/book, you had to buy the domain. Apparently not.

[23] Reference:

“I’m into Mendoza Line and Raveonettes now.”

(p.219)

The Mendoza Line was a folky, indie rock band from 1996-2007.

The Raveonettes are a Danish indie rock duo.

[24]

Her mother had a saying: Too late always comes too early.

(p.231)

[25] Some classic King moves:

“Try to see Barbara before you start your treatments.” (…)

“I’ll make sure of it,” Hodges says, but that is a promise he’s not able to keep.

(p.235)

We believe King’s statement that Hodges will not keep his promise. We have three options as to why: Hodges will die, Barbara will die, or Hodges will simply be in treatment before getting a chance to see her.

The problem with reading too much of an author’s work is you already know the answer, even when they think they’re being coy. This is one of King’s psuedo-doom foreshadows (not to be confused with his true-doom foreshadows; see Pet Sematary notes [6] and [11]. If someone’s going to die, King’s usually blunt about it).

He does it again later and if you fall for it this time, it’s your own fault:

Jerome gets into his Jeep and heads home. As he merges onto the Crosstown, a strong premonition comes to him: he’s never going to see either one of his friends again. He tries to tell himself that’s superstitious bullshit, but he can’t quite make it work.

(p.380)

Guess what? Jerome sees them again.

[26] Reference:

He’s wearing a furry ushanka.

(p.235)

(Informally called a Russian hat.) A Russian fur cap with ear flaps that can be tied up to the crown of the cap. The word ushanka derives from ushi, “ears” in Russian.

[27] Reference:

The winter storm, ridiculously dubbed Eugenie by the Weather Channel wonks, is still coming and is expected to hit the city sometime late tomorrow.

(p.241)

This was not a real winter storm.

[28] Reference:

“I’m like Sergeant Schultz on Hogan’s Heroes. Remember him?”

(p.241)

Schultz was Colonel Klink’s bumbling Sergeant on Hogan’s Heroes. His catchphrase was some variation on “I hear nothing, I see nothing, I know nothing!”

[29] Reference:

He sees a basketball with the word VOIT printed on it in faded black letters.

(p.245)

The Voit Corporation is a sporting goods and watch company founded in 1922.

[30] Vocabulary:

What he wants is the MacBook Air sitting on the credenza.

(p.253)

noun – a sideboard or cupboard.

[31]

Four in the morning is usually an unhappy time to be awake.

(p.253)

[32] Reference:

Even worse than after that cataclysmic party to celebrate her twenty-first, when she mixed crystal meth with Ronrico.

(p.256)

A brand of rum.

[33] Reference:

Only the spider is dead.

And we all say hooray, he thinks.

(p.263)

 

Like Brady, badconcert.com is a gone goose, a toasty turkey, a baked buzzard, and we all say hooray.

(p.266)

 

And we all say hooray, Hodges thinks.

(p.270)

Seems to be a common-ish line in children’s songs/chants. I have no familiarity with it.

[34] Reference:

“We are made to persist, that’s how we find out who we are.”

Tobias Wolfe [sic]

(p.271)

Tobias Wolff (b.1945) is an American short story writer, memoirist, and novelist. He is known for his memoirs, particularly This Boy’s Life (1989).

The line quoted here is from his memoir In Pharaoh’s Army (1994).

[35] Reference:

Brady became fascinated with suicide at the age of twelve, while reading Raven, a true-crime book about the mass suicides in Jonestown, Guyana.

(p.287)

Raven: The Untold Story of the Rev. Jim Jones and His People (1982) details the life and ultimate demise of Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple. It was written by journalist Tim Reiterman.

[36] Fact check (was this a real suicide in 1999?):

One inventive fellow (…) stuck a 220-volt line up his rectum and electrocuted himself.

(p.288)

This is a difficult one to find through Googling (and man, my history is looking mighty weird). There are many cases of accidental electrocution during auto-erotic practice and maybe, if this is based on a real death, we might be looking at something along those lines rather than suicide.

 

[37] Reference:

He quoted a famous psychiatrist named Raymond Katz, who stated flatly, “Every human being is born with the suicide gene.” Brady did not bother to add the second part of Katz’s statement, because he felt it took some of the drama out of it: “In most of us, it remains dormant.”

(p.288)

This appears to be an invented reference.

Raymond Katz is the name of a Pediatric Dentist in California.

Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist was a pretty great animated series that ran on Comedy Central from 1995 – 1999 (the character’s name was Jonathan Katz).

The term “suicide gene” refers to a cell that kills itself through apoptosis (programmed cell death). Stimulation or introduction of suicide genes is a potential way of treating cancer.

This is why I look up references, especially with Stephen King. His characters reference “facts” and studies that are absolute fakes. He does a good job with it and the beauty of being a fiction writer is creating your own universe. (I just don’t want to be the idiot repeating this story from The Stand like I was in high school.)

[38] Reference:

It’s why the swallows come back each year to Capistrano.

(p.290)

Mission San Juan Capistrano was a Spanish mission; its ruins are in present-day San Juan Capistrano, California. The American cliff swallow is a migratory bird that spends its winters in Goya, Argentina but makes the 6,000-mile trek north to the American Southwest in the spring. According to legend, the birds, who have visited the San Juan Capistrano area every summer for centuries, first took refuge at the Mission when an irate innkeeper began destroying their mud nests.

[39] Reference:

In southern Wales, dozens of teens hung themselves between 2007 and 2009, with message on social networking sites stoking the craze. Even the goodbyes they left were couched in Netspeak: Me2 and CU L8er.

(p.290)

A set of suicides involving young people occurred (are still occurring?) in Bridgend County Borough in South Wales. Reports speculated that a “suicide cult” was to blame. Between January 2007 and February 2009, twenty-five people killed themselves, all but one from hanging. Many of the victims were between the ages of 13 and 17.

I think King has taken some liberties with the “Netspeak.” From a February 2009  Vanity Fair article:

She tells me how the press misconstrued Tasha’s message on Liam’s memorial page, “me too,” as meaning that she was planning to kill herself, too. Bebo is designed so that “me too” comes up automatically whenever you choose to copy your posting to your own page.

[40] Reference:

“Say ‘I am at peace now. You can be, too. Go to zeetheend.com.’ ”

(p.294)

I’m shocked that Stephen King (and/or his publishing company) didn’t buy this domain and turn it into a suicide prevention site. As of now, it’s for sale.

[41] References:

“I read in Gamer Programming that the Star Smash arcade game does something like that.”

(p.310)

Gamer Programming is not a real magazine/website.

There is a game called Star Smash on digital stores, but not an arcade game.

[42] Vocabulary:

Brady’s attention was caught by an item on News at Noon. The anchors, who had been laughing it up over the antics of a couple of baby pandas, put on their Oh Shit This Is So Awful faces when the chyron behind them changed from the panda to a broken-heart logo.

(p.322)

A lower third, or chyron, is a graphic overlay placed in the title-safe lower area of the screen.

[43]

He dreads to think what may lie ahead.

No, he thinks, dread is the wrong word. Terror is the right one. For the first time in my life, I’m terrified of the future, where I see everything that I am or ever was first submerged, then erased. If the pain itself doesn’t do it, the heavier drugs they give me to stifle it will.

(p.339)

[44]

There are two elevators, one with an out-of-order sign taped to it. On the one that works someone has posted a note that reads, Whoever has the barking dog on 4, I will find you.

“I find that rather ominous,” Jerome says.

(346)

[45] Reference:

She’s wearing a strappy tee-shirt with BAD BOY BAIL BONDS, BRADENTON FLA on the front. Below this is the motto IN JAIL? WE BAIL!

(p.347)

I’ll be damned, this is a real business. I’m not sure if they sell shirts.

[46] Reference:

A fragment of some poem read in high school occurs to him, and he speaks it aloud.

Oh do not ask what is it, let us go and make our visit.”

(p.363)

From “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T.S. Eliot, first published in June 1915.

(The line “I should have been a pair of ragged claws / Scuttling across the floors of silent seas” is also from this poem.)

[47] I don’t know if these echoes between characters is intentional or an oversight in editing:

Brady:

Brady eases Z-Boy’s car up to sixty. That will soon be too fast for conditions, but he’ll hold the needle there as long as he can.

(p.338)

Bill:

He pegs the speedometer at sixty and will hold it there as long as he can.

(p.380)

 

Bill

442 Maritime Drive turns out to be one of the condos that sprang up like mushrooms on the south side of the lake in the go-go eighties.

(p.346)

Izzie

“They pop up on the Net like mushrooms.”

(p.366)

 

Brady

There are two questions, as Brady sees it. The first is whether or not Hodges can take down the website. The second is whether or not Hodges can find him out here in the williwags.

(p.362)

Jerome

“It’s a Tucker Sno-Cat, and you didn’t offer him your MasterCard as collateral. Not to mention an excellent Jeep Wrangler that got me out here to the williwags just fine, thanks.”

(p.417)

[48]

It’s past three o’clock and the light is starting to drain from this snowy day when Holly speaks again.

“Thank you.”

He turns his head briefly, looking a question at her.

(p.383)

[49] Using intuitions and hunches in fiction is a delicate dance. Do it once in a while and the reader probably won’t notice. Use it too often and it looks like shoddy plotting. If I had to point to a weakness in King’s writing, it’s overusing magical moments to steer people in the right direction.

At some point he has become convinced that Brady Hartsfield’s mind is now running in Babineau’s body. The intuition is too strong to deny, and has gained the weight of fact.

(p.393)

 

Maybe it was pure women’s intuition. Hodges actually believes in such a thing.

(p.414)

[50] Hate to end it on this note, but King did. Here’s some of Jerome’s last dialogue in the book:

For the first time since Jerome returned from Arizona, Tyrone Feelgood Delight makes an appearance: “You is sem’ny years old, Massa Hodges? Laws! You don’t look a day ovah sixty-fi’!”

“Stop it, Jerome,” Holly says. “I know it amuses you, but that sort of talk sounds very ignorant and silly.”

(p.418)

I finally agree with Holly: Stop it, Mr. King. I know it amuses you, but that sort of talk sounds very ignorant.


 

If you’ve already read Mr. Mercedes and Finders Keepers, go ahead and finish the series. If you haven’t started it yet, skip the whole thing. As far as recent King books to recommend, Revival had some good bits and 11/22/63 was his best since 1996’s The Regulators.

Up next week: Joan Aiken’s short story collection, The Monkey’s Wedding, published by the good folks at Small Beer Press.

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7 thoughts on ““End of Watch”

  1. I liked the Stephen King of old better, when he wrote flat-out horror novels, although I loved the Dark Tower series. The Bill Hodges trilogy is probably the least engaging of all of the novels SK has written. I’ve been trying to finish End Of Watch for weeks; it just isn’t holding my attention. 😦

    Liked by 1 person

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