CriminOlly thinks: After a painfully slow start, King manages to pull off a compelling mix of hokey horror and accomplished crime fiction. 4/5
Title: The Outsider | Author: Stephen King | Publisher: Scribner | Pages: 561 | ISBN: 9781501180989 | Publication date: 22nd May 2018 | Source: Self-purchased | Content warnings: Yes | Tolerance warning: No
Stephen King’s books are too long. I say that as someone who has read and enjoyed dozens upon dozens of his novels. It’s simply a statement of fact. ‘The Outsider’ is no exception to that rule. It takes 550 pages to tell a story that ‘The X-Files’ would have handled in 50 minutes (and it does read very much like an episode of that show). I struggled with it, particularly in the first third, but by the end Mr King had won me round, as he so often does.
I’m reviewing ‘The Outsider’ on CriminOlly, because despite the fact it has a definite supernatural horror theme, it is at heart a crime novel. It starts with the arrest of a pillar of the community in a small US town. He’s a man accused of a truly appalling crime which, as the story progresses it becomes clear he couldn’t have committed, despite all the evidence to the contrary. After that blistering opening, the first third is painfully slow, as King painstakingly lays out all the evidence of his guilt. Even for a fan of police procedurals, the constant stream of people saying basically the same thing felt like a slog.
Fortunately, the book takes a turn at the end of act one. After that the pace picks up and it gripped me completely. For a love of crime fiction there is much to enjoy here. There are courtroom scenes, detailed forensics, cops (both noble and corrupt), private eyes, politically motivated district attorneys and tense shoot outs. King handles all these tropes with the skill of a seasoned pro. Like much of King’s work it’s also rich with the detail of life in small-town America. As an outside, it’s almost soothing to read. I was struck as I read the book how much of my sense of life in middle America (as opposed to LA or New York) comes from King’s books.
The horror in the book is less well handled than the crime. As noted above, it does feel an awful lot like ‘The X-Files’ at times. That’s not necessarily a huge problem, and didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the book, but it does feel kinda hokey at times. In fact, I’d definitely say it’s a better crime novel than a horror one. It just feels more mature and measure when it’s focussing on the mystery and detection elements than when it slips into its b-movie supernatural mode. King does manage to make it all hang together though and the result it gripping (once it gets going), with characters whose survival you actually care about.
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.
Content Warning: Child abuse, child murder, drug abuse, alcoholism, suicide
Tolerance Warning: All good