Review: The Outsider
The Outsider, Stephen King
Published May 22, 2018, Scribner
4 1/2 Stars
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.
This book has all of the hallmarks of a classic Stephen King story, including the types of characters he spins so well and the kind of chilling moments that require me turning lights on in the middle of the night for days after finishing the story. (Actually, in the case of It I read that almost 14 years ago and occasionally still need to turn the bathroom light on in the middle of the night lest voices from the drain start chatting…)
It took me a little time to really get into the book. We meet a lot of the people in the first handful of pages and as the story alternates between “current events” and previous interviews I had a hard time keeping track of everyone and their role in the case. Once the more procedural aspects of the story trailed off it became more about the people and the mysterious entity wreaking havoc and taking lives, which I found much more appealing.
This story also offered the opportunity to revisit a character from the Bill Hodges trilogy. I know that feels like a bit of a spoiler, but knowing what happened in that collection of books really does help set the tone for how much of The Outsider is resolved. If you haven’t read those books yet, have yourself a little Stephen King-centric summer reading program and get caught up before you tackle this one. Like many of King’s books, having read his entire oeuvre makes each new book a richer experience as he often includes previous characters and references to other mysterious places and things.
Overall, I loved that these gave me some serious heebie jeebies, that there was an exploration of a mythology I wasn’t familiar with before this book, and that the story was full of the kinds of familiar characters I’ve come to expect in a Stephen King book. I love that there is an earnestness in the way King writes his leading men and women that offers hope in the triumph of good over evil, and that those who are doing the most good in that fight are often the most unassuming.