MR. MERCEDES. By Stephen King. Scribner. 448 pages. $30.

"Mr. Mercedes" is classic Stephen King. Creepy, yet realistic characters that get under your skin and stay there, a compelling story that twists and turns at breakneck speed, and delightful prose.

What's billed as King's first true detective novel captures the story of Mr. Mercedes, a killer so named because he used a stolen car to plow through a group of hundreds standing in line to attend a job fair. The killer escapes and becomes the obsession of retired cop Bill Hodges.

Chasing down Mr. Mercedes literally breathes new life into Hodges who, until then, had spent months watching TV and contemplating suicide.

Feeling useful again, Hodges enlists the help of his Jerome, the scary-smart, computer-savvy teenager who lives nearby and cuts Hodges' grass. Their goal: to find Mr. Mercedes before he kills again.

"Mr. Mercedes" rises above the standard crime novel because of its characters and its well-timed, unexpected tension.

Murderer Brady Hartsfield is a frightening racist and sociopath. Janey Patterson, the sister of the Mercedes' owner who becomes Hodges' girlfriend, is feisty, tough and modern.

The supporting cast is as interesting and integral to the story as the main characters.

Reviewer Kim Curtis writes for the Associated Press.