Thursday, October 31, 2019

BOOK REVIEW: The Outsider by Stephen King

The Outsider is a supernatural thriller by Stephen King, connected loosely to his foray into mystery-thrillers, the Bill Hodges trilogy of Mr. MercedesFinders Keepers and End of Watch. Of course King is a colossus in the world of horror (and publishing overall) but I have never really considered myself a fan (primarily because I don't really like horror).

The first of his books that I read was his work of alternate history 11/22/63, and I greatly enjoyed it. I read the Bill Hodges trilogy because I knew that they were in one of the genres that I love: mystery-thriller. Although I generally liked the trilogy I became less enamored with the books the greater the role of the supernatural played in the story as it progressed in the later books.

In The Outsider the plot revolves around a horrific kidnapping, rape and murder of a 13-year-old boy. The perpetrator appears obvious. Many eyewitnesses put the local English teacher (and high school baseball coach) Terry Maitland at the scene of the crime, and later walking around in bloody clothes which leave little doubt to his guilt. So the police arrest him in front of his wife and kids (and almost all of the entire small town of Flint City, Oklahoma) only a few days after the boy's body is found, without interviewing Terry ahead of time or getting DNA results back from the lab. However, soon the reader discovers that the day of the kidnapping Terry is on video attending an English teachers' convention with other colleagues at Capital City, several hours drive away. Eventually it turns out that the DNA evidence is all over the boy's body and a fingerprint of Terry is found in Capital City. So basically the central notion of the story is set up. A man (Terry Maitland) must have been in two places at the same time and in one of those places this well-liked husband and father of two girls completed unspeakable acts of violence and depredation. 

Eventually Holly Gibney, one of the main characters from the Bill Hodges books, shows up and connects the dots. She's convinced that there's a supernatural creature, called The Outsider, who is able to take on the body of other people who is committing crimes as a body double, deliberately leaving forensic evidence to incriminate the person whose body he has doubled. The key insight is that the Maitland case may not be the first instance of a horrific crime where a surprising individual is obviously guilty but who claims he was in a completely different place when the incident happened.

Overall, The Outsider works very well as a supernatural thriller. It's great spending time with Holly again and the story proceeds and develops in surprising and suspenseful ways. However, as a mystery or police procedural it really doesn't work at all. Because if the perpetrator can do supernatural things, how can the police (or the reader) have any chance of solving the mystery? That's one of the primary flaws in End of Watch, but by then we have spent multiple books with the main characters involved so I could let it slide.  And even so, these's no question King is an incredibly effective and entertaining writer. I hope that King writes more books featuring Holly, even if they have supernatural elements to them.

Title: The Outsider.
Stephen King.
Paperback: 561 pages.
Date Published: May 22, 2018.
Date Read: October 12, 2019.

★★½☆  (4.5/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: A- (3.67/4.0).


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