Book Review: The Outsider by Stephen King
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Horror, Mystery
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Scriber (May 22, 2018)
Length: 561 pages
Hard to believe, but the last book I read by Stephen King was 11/22/63 (which was one of the most amazing pieces of literature I’ve ever read), but it’s true I’m probably not as keen to jump on every new release of his as I used to be. And quite honestly, I haven’t been all that interested in picking any of his recent stuff. But something about The Outsider caught my attention. There was some of that old-school King flavor about it that looked promising.
The book opens by laying out the details of a horrific crime, setting the scene for a detective story. In Flint City, Oklahoma, a little boy named Frank Peterson has been murdered, his violated body found in a town park. Based on the mountain of evidence available, including multiple eyewitness accounts and DNA and fingerprint samples, Detective Ralph Anderson arrests Little League coach Terry Maitland at a baseball game in front of the whole town. Everyone is shocked that the well-respected husband and father of two could be capable of such an unspeakable act, but it just goes to show, you can never know what’s going on in someone’s heart or mind, no matter how normal they seem.
The problem though, is that Terry Maitland insists on his innocence. And despite everything the police have on him, he also has an airtight alibi. It seems that at the time of the murder, Terry was out of town attending a conference with his fellow teachers, who all confirm he was with them the entire time. There’s even security and TV footage to back up his story. So what gives? How is it possible that a man can be in two places at the same time? Detective Anderson sure isn’t buying it, and is convinced that Terry killed the Peterson boy, but he just doesn’t know the why and the how. But before he can dig any further, disaster strikes, altering the course of his investigation as well as the fates of everyone involved.
The Outsider is one of those books only Stephen King can write. No one else can tease the reader for a third of the book, without providing any real answers or progress, and still have you eating out of his hands, begging for more. The first two hundred pages or so are filled with an outrageous amount of background information, a lot of back and forth conversations and going over what we already know again and again. Any other author would have me cursing their name, but King somehow manages to make it work. After all, long introductions are kind of his thing, and I put up with them for the most part because I trust he’s building up to something big, and besides, no one can create such an intense atmosphere of anticipation quite the way he does.
In truth, we don’t get to the meat of the story until the second part. Enter Holly Gibney of the Bill Hodges trilogy fame, a series a confess I never really got into, but she was fantastic in this book, despite being a supporting character. She gets involved when Flint City gets in touch with her to see if she can follow up on a few leads in Dayton, Ohio, and thanks to her tenacity and smarts, the team gets a huge break in their investigation. From there onwards, it’s a thrilling and unputdownable hunt for a supernatural predator who feeds on violence, pain and misery. Like many of King’s novels, the story seeks to explore the idea of evil in the world that goes far beyond the understanding of mere mortals. It is here that we begin our transition from murder mystery into pure horror territory.
Of course, it’s not all smooth sailing. The plot meanders and languishes close to the end of the second act as we ramp up towards the finale, and the ending felt like it came on and was over and done with way too soon. I also liked the supernatural element, but it seemed to try too hard to be convincing and cover all its bases, when a little ambiguity might have served it better. Trying to over-explain the situation and in general making things more complicated than necessary was why I felt the pacing lagged a bit in the second half, but happily, the conclusion made up for it. While it may have been a little rushed, the scene of the final showdown was dramatic, suspenseful and most importantly satisfying when it was all over.
In the end, The Outsider is a Stephen King novel through and through. Even with its warts and all, that’s a good thing. It’s not the best book I’ve read by him, but it’s definitely up there in terms of readability and how much fun I had with it. If you’re a King fan, it’s well worth your time.