Stephen King – The Outsider

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The Outsider is another crime/horror cross-over from King in the same style as the Bill Hodges trilogy (Mr Mercedes, Finders Keepers, End of Watch) and while it’s not a sequel to those books it does exist in the same universe and indeed does feature the character of Holly Gibney. If you don’t want spoilers then please take a look at some of my other posts, as this one will include some.

The Outsider tells the story of a teacher and Little League Baseball coach Terry Maitland who is arrested for the horrific murder of a young boy. There is all sorts of DNA and eye-witness evidence to suggest Maitland is the murderer. However, it soon transpires that Maitland was out of town at a literary conference with some school colleagues when the boy was murdered. So King’s central mystery for this novel is how can Maitland have been in two places at once? The cover art and my expectations of what King would reveal screamed evil doppelgänger.

I was not disappointed. While what transpires is rather linear after the big ‘set up’ I was impressed, as ever, by King’s ability to make you want to keep reading and reading long into the small hours of the night. This book is a real page turner with some great characters. As usual with King, I found the ending an anti-climax but enjoyed the ride to the inevitable victory of good over evil.

The impact of wrongly accusing someone of such a heinous crime cuts through the story like dark seams of some malignant black ooze. Feeling most guilty about the rush to very publicly arrest Maitland at a baseball game is police detective Ralph Anderson. So much so that he ends up teaming up with Maitland’s friend and lawyer Howie Gold. They also seek the services of Holly Gibney who is still mourning the death of Bill Hodges, but having experienced supernatural evil first hand has a the much-needed open mindedness required to crack the case and track down the real killer – the titular outsider.

They inevitably track down the outsider who King is at pains to tell you is weakened by his activities trying to thwart the investigation and by his metamorphosis into another stolen identity. The final ‘battle’ happens in a typically dark lair in the form of a system of local caves shut down by the authorities due to safety concerns.

King spices up the action with the addition of Hoskins an alcoholic and mean-spirited rival in the police who is convinced by the outsider to help him stop the investigators in return for being freed from death by skin cancer. Hoskins tries to snipe Ralph and Holly’s team when they arrive at the defunct tourist attraction but a rattlesnake makes a surprise appearance and scuppers Hoskins’s plans.

The way the outsider is dispatched by Holly is a throwback to previous books and reminiscent of Mr Oogie Boogie’s demise in The Nightmare Before Christmas. I therefore thought it was rather more comical than King had intended and also a bit lame.

Like a lot of people I have read every book King has written and so while I can’t purport to be his number one fan, I am a big one. So believe me when I tell you that this is not a patch on some of his older titles such as It, The Shining or The Stand, or indeed the more recent Revival. It replays a lot of Kingesque tropes in the guise of a more procedural crime thriller and has little novel to offer to a long-time King reader.

That said, he still writes his characters in three dimensions and deeply fills them with flaws and anxieties that make them very relatable. He makes you care about if and how the characters are going to be able resolve the strange situations in which they find themselves. He also has not lost his ability to make you turn a page. It’s a better book than say Doctor Sleep, but not a classic.

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