Book: “The Outsider” by Stephen King
Publishing Info: Scribner, May 2018
Where Did I Get This Book: The library!
Book Description: An unspeakable crime. A confounding investigation. At a time when the King brand has never been stronger, he has delivered one of his most unsettling and compulsively readable stories.
An eleven-year-old boy’s violated corpse is found in a town park. Eyewitnesses and fingerprints point unmistakably to one of Flint City’s most popular citizens. He is Terry Maitland, Little League coach, English teacher, husband, and father of two girls. Detective Ralph Anderson, whose son Maitland once coached, orders a quick and very public arrest. Maitland has an alibi, but Anderson and the district attorney soon add DNA evidence to go with the fingerprints and witnesses. Their case seems ironclad.
As the investigation expands and horrifying answers begin to emerge, King’s propulsive story kicks into high gear, generating strong tension and almost unbearable suspense. Terry Maitland seems like a nice guy, but is he wearing another face? When the answer comes, it will shock you as only Stephen King can.
Review: Goodness gracious, I seriously love Stephen King so much. He’s been one of my favorites since I was in middle school, and twenty years later I’m still always anxious and excited to read books by him that are new (or new to me, as his catalog is extensive and I haven’t read a good portion of it). I camped outside my old library the day that “The Outsider” came out because I knew that it was going to be on the new wall and up for grabs, as opposed to out on request. I finally started it a couple weeks later, when the due date was starting to loom on the horizon, and devoured most of it while in bed with the stomach flu. But honestly, even if I hadn’t been bedridden, I would have devoted most of my day to sitting inside reading “The Outsider” because it is that good. It is THAT good.
“The Outsider” is a combination of writing genres that we have come to know King for: there’s one part of it that is straight up horror, but then there is another that I would classify as a crime procedural not unlike his “Bill Hodges” Trilogy (more on that later, though). While it starts out as a tense crime drama, with our main character Detective Ralph Anderson trying to solve a horrific murder in his small Oklahoma town, it slowly and methodically evolves into a scary story that gave me an unshakable case of the willies. It goes slow, but it builds up the dread in a way that feels as effortless as it does suffocating. As we get to see the perspectives of a number of the players in this story, from the frustrating (a prosecutor who is more interested in his re-election than trying to solve inconsistencies) to the devastating (the family of the boy who was found raped and murdered), we get the full feel for the town and many of its inhabitants and become attached to a number of them as well. With all of the plot reveals with these characters and the case that has torn the town apart, I was almost always taken for a ride and surprised by the various reveals, outcomes, and twists that come to pass. And then the game completely changed, and while I knew it was going to change, it was still a gut punch. And a moment where I had to set the book down and decompress before going forward.
Then there are the horror elements. I feel like we’re kind of getting back to some old school King in this book, as his more recent forays have been more on the gritty crime drama (with a sprinkling of the supernatural) and fantasy sides. This one has some scary imagery and scary moments that go beyond the strange, and the monster of the book, or ‘the outsider’, as the characters start referring to it, jumps off the page in both quiet and violent moments. As the characters grapple with a supernatural threat that many of them don’t even believe in, we see ‘the outsider’ hoping to keep ahead of them, through any means necessary. The inspirations for this new monster are derived from a couple sources, specifically El Cuca, a monster that eats children that is derived from Portuguese, Latin American, and Spanish folklore, and “Dracula”. King, of course, adds his own twists, of course, and the final product is frightful and spooky. And don’t think that I didn’t see what parallels King was drawing back to “Dracula” with this rag tag group of individuals going out to hunt down ‘the outsider’ for a final showdown. It was grinning the entire time. Just when I thought that this delicious mix of horror and crime couldn’t get any better, something amazing happened….. Holly Gibney from the “Bill Hodges” Trilogy showed up.
As you might remember from previous reviews on this site, I love Holly Gibney with all my heart. She is determined and strange and anxious and loyal, and when it became obvious that this wasn’t a mere cameo, but a full on lead role in this book, “The Outsider” transcended everything I had expected of it. Holly is the perfect addition to Ralph and his group, as she adds a bit of her general quirkiness and social awkwardness to their no nonsense skepticism, and it makes for a fun combination. It was also a bittersweet tidbit of getting a glimpse into her life post Bill Hodges, and how much she misses him as well as how much he has influenced her. She is still the amazing Holly from the “Bill Hodges” books, but now she gets to stand on her own two feet and step into the spotlight.
I will say, though, that the ending did feel a little rushed once we got to the climax, and while I know that stuck landings are not a guarantee with King, I was hoping that this one would really knock it out of the park. The good news is that the journey getting there was still fabulous, but it was still disappointing that it didn’t quite go the distance that it could have gone given the fabulous lead up. King’s greatest foes are his endings, and we can consider “The Outsider” another casualty in this ongoing battle of stuck vs not stuck.
Overall, “The Outsider” was a great read and another excellent tale of horror from the horror master. King is in the middle of a new golden age of his writing, and I am sure that “The Outsider” is going to endure just as some of his other classics have.
Rating 9: Another triumph from my favorite horror writer of all time.
Find “The Outsider” at your library using WorldCat!