53 pages 1 hour read

Stephen King

End of Watch

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2016

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Summary and Study Guide


End of Watch (2016) is the third installment of Stephen King’s Bill Hodges trilogy, preceded by Mr. Mercedes and Finders Keepers. King has described the first book of the series, Mr. Mercedes, as his first hard-boiled detective story. End of Watch is followed by The Outsider (2018) and Holly (2023), both of which also feature Holly Gibney, one of the protagonists of End of Watch.

A TV series based on Mr. Mercedes premiered on August 9th, 2017, and Season 2 presented a loose adaptation of End of Watch. King has won more than 30 awards for his fiction. His books and short stories have been made into 39 films (with another 16 planned as of 2023) and 13 television series (with seven more in planning). He has written nine of the screen adaptations himself and made cameo or voice appearances in 11 movies, including one in which he played himself.

This guide refers to the Scribner Kindle Edition.

Content Warning: This guide contains extensive discussion of death by suicide and mass murder, which feature in the source text.

Plot Summary

Six years before the beginning of End of Watch, Brady Hartsfield stole a gray Mercedes and ran it into a crowd outside City Center. Several people were killed and many more injured. Bill Hodges and his partner Pete Huntley were the lead detectives on the case but initially failed to catch Brady. Hodges then started his own private detective firm, Finders Keepers. Brady went on to engineer the suicide of Olivia Trelawny, the woman whose car he used for the attack on the City Center. He then tried to goad Hodges to die by suicide himself. Instead, Hodges pursued the killer. With the help of Holly Gibney, Hodges tracked down Brady just in time to stop him from setting off a bomb at a concert. In stopping Brady, Holly struck him several times in the head, causing near-fatal brain damage. Brady has been semi-catatonic in a brain injury clinic for six years. Holly and Hodges now both run Finders Keepers as a skip-tracing agency, but Hodges has never been able to overcome his sense that Brady has escaped justice.

End of Watch opens with Bill Hodges learning of the suicide of another victim of the City Center attack. His former partner, Pete Huntley, and Pete’s new partner, Isabelle Jaynes, are the leads on the case. They call on Bill and Holly because one of the victims, Martine Stover, was paralyzed in the City Center attack. The other victim is her mother Janice, who seems to have killed first her daughter, then herself. Pete and Isabelle reveal that other victims of the City Center attack have died by suicide in the last year.

At the crime scene Holly notes the letter Z written on a countertop in the bathroom where Janice died. She also finds a handheld game console called a Zappit Commander. She makes a connection between the Zappit and the letter Z. Janice’s housekeeper Nancy Alderson tells Hodges the game console came from a strange man at the grocery store who claimed he was giving them away as a promotional campaign. She also tells them about an old man in a beaten-up car who has been hanging around the neighborhood. In a house for sale down the street, Hodges finds signs that someone has been watching Janice and Martine’s house.

In the clinic where Brady Hartsfield has been held for the last six years, Doctor Babineau has been experimenting on Brady using unapproved drugs. Brady has recovered his volition and gained the ability to move things with his mind. He has learned to use the Zappit consoles to take control of other people’s minds. Assuming control of the hospital librarian Al Brooks and Dr. Babineau, he hires his old coworker, Freddi Linklatter, to hack all Zappit consoles and insert a hypnotic prompt into a game on the device called “Fishin’ Hole.”

Brady plans to send out the Zappits en masse to the teenagers who were at the concert he attempted to bomb and use the Zappits to compel the teenagers to die by suicide within a short time. He gets Freddi to set up a repeater so that Brady can project the suicide command to all of them at once. Through Freddi, he also sets up a website containing subliminal messages to trigger more suicides.

One of the girls who receives a free Zappit is Barbara Robinson, the younger sister of Jerome Robinson, a friend of Hodges and Holly, who has worked with them before. Brady tries to get Barbara to step into the street in front of a truck, but she is saved at the last minute by a bystander. Barbara’s experience gives Hodges and Holly another clue to the mysterious suicide case, and they draw closer to identifying the killer and figuring out how he is doing it. Hodges gets a Zappit console from one of Barbara’s friends. He notices the hypnotic effect but doesn’t see the blue flashes Barbara describes. Brady’s repeater is not yet set up to upload the hack that will turn all Zappits into mind-traps.

Freddi Linklatter is more and more uneasy about the repeater and the website. She has suppressed her discomfort because Brady/Babineau has been paying her a lot of money. She is also starting to believe that Babineau is somehow Brady. The repeater goes active, and Freddi becomes sure that Babineau is Brady. She demands the last of her money, intending that as soon as Brady/Babineau is gone, she will shut down the repeater and leave town. Instead, Brady/Babineau shoots her. He then goes to the hospital and kills his Brady body.

Freddi wakes up to find that the bullet from Brady’s gun was stopped by a flask and an Altoid tin—it gave her only a flesh wound. She tries to shut down the suicide website, but she can’t get access, and her attempt warns Brady that she is still alive.

Pete calls Hodges and tells him another person has died by suicide and they have found a Zappit at the scene. Isabelle continues to deny any connection, and the police captain has told Pete to drop it. Pete tells Hodges to take the case and run with it. A little later, Pete calls back to tell Hodges that Brady is dead and it’s all over. Holly and Hodges have a strong intuition that nothing is over. They track down Freddi at her apartment. She confesses about the repeater and the website, and she shares her conviction that Brady is alive in Babineau’s body. Jerome disconnects the repeater and Holly convinces the police cyber-crime unit to crash the website, which they do.

Meanwhile, Brady has fled to Dr. Babineau’s hunting cabin in the mountains. He continues to track down Zappits with the hacked software and torment the users into killing themselves. Holly and Hodges leave Jerome behind and go after Brady. Tracking him to the cabin, they approach through the woods. However, Brady is lying in wait. He knocks Holly unconscious and forces Hodges to carry her inside. He makes Hodges look at one of the Zappits. Before he can get into Hodges’s mind, Holly recovers consciousness and shoots Brady in the shoulder. Brady flees and fires a high-powered automatic rifle at the cabin, trying to kill them, but Jerome arrives in the nick of time and crushes Brady under a snowplow. Hodges gives the dying Brady his old .38 revolver and allows him to end his own life rather than dying slowly.

Several months after Brady’s death, Hodges dies of pancreatic cancer, leaving Holly to run their business with help from Hodges’s old partner Pete—now retired himself. Holly is grieved, but she finds that she is going to be all right without Hodges. She still has friends who love her, and she is ready to stand on her own feet without him.