The Outsider, by Stephen King

>> Saturday, November 03, 2018

TITLE: The Outsider
AUTHOR: Stephen King

PAGES: 576

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Paranormal fiction
SERIES: I'd say this is #4 in the Bill Hodges series

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.
TW for sexual abuse of children. Doesn't happen on-screen, but you do get some pretty nauseating details.

The sexual assault and murder of a local child is one of the most horrific crimes Flint City Police Detective Ralph Anderson has ever had to investigate. The details of how things went down and the mutilation of the body are truly stomach-churning.

But the case is also the easiest to solve in Ralph's career. Witness after witness after witness identify previously squeaky-clean Little League coach Terry Maitland as the man who was seen stopping by the little boy, who was walking home pushing his bike with a broken chain. Terry was seen talking to the boy and putting the bike in his van. He was seen coming out of the woods where the child was found, covered in blood. He was seen at pretty much every stage of committing his crime. There's physical evidence galore, as well. Fingerprints everywhere you'd expect them to be if the perpetrator hadn't worn gloves or wiped them off, even DNA evidence. No murderer has ever been this careless, no case has ever been this watertight.

But once a very public, very humiliating arrest has been made, evidence starts to emerge that seems at odds with the facts Ralph is so convinced of. Terry claims to have been somewhere else at the time of the murder, somewhere quite far from Flint City. And the evidence for that is rock-solid as well...

And that's all the detail I'm going to give about the plot, as I don't want to ruin any surprises. Suffice it to say that Ralph ends up pursuing the doubts generated by Terry's alibi, and these threads lead into some quite scary directions.

The Outsider is a page-turner, even though if you think about it objectively, there's less plot than you would expect in a book that is almost 600 pages long. That's because the plotty bits are very nicely balanced out by quite a bit of character development and interaction, and that, to me, was what made this book so excellent.

I particularly liked the way Ralph is not acting alone in his investigation. Almost without trying, a sort of team is created, made up of people whose interest in the case comes from several different directions. They each bring their strengths to the case. And that is something that I always love. In this case, it was also a wonderful bonus to have one of the people in the team be Holly Gibney, who readers of King's Bill Hodges series (which starts with Mr Mercedes) will surely remember. She's still very much Holly, but she's also a character who has evolved and changed and gone a long way from the little mouse of a woman of the first book. I loved the connection and growing friendship between her and Ralph. That was just beautiful.

The supernatural element was really interesting. We go into the mythology of Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking countries, a particular being that was a part of my childhood but in a very mild, disembodied way. It was fascinating to see the much more concrete forms, with some very detailed mythology, that it takes in other Latin American countries. I'll never think of a particular lullaby in the same way again, I can tell you that!

Finally, the conclusion of the book was great. Exciting and surprising, and plenty of closure afterwards. Loved it.

MY GRADE: A very enjoyable A-.

AUDIOBOOK NOTES: This one had the same narrator as the Bill Hodges series, Will Patton. He does some very idiosyncratic voices. I found them annoying at first when I started reading Mr Mercedes, but by the time I got to this one, they feel just right. It was nice to have Holly have exactly the same voice as before, even if I did feel Ralph's voice was maybe a bit too close to Bill's in the previous series.


meljean brook 8 November 2018 at 09:46  

I really liked this one, too. I wouldn't say that it would go up there with my very favorite epic King books that I read when I was younger (like The Stand, It, or Eyes of the Dragon -- I think they probably all had a bigger impact on me as a kid, so maybe it's also a nostalgic factor) but it was super solid and enjoyable all the way through. I didn't even finish the 3rd Mr. Mercedes book, so I wasn't too sure about it (and I really enjoyed that first book in that trilogy) but I loved Holly and revisiting her here.

Like you said, there wasn't actually a lot of plot, considering the length of the book. But it was all so well done.

Rosario 17 November 2018 at 06:17  

You know, I haven't read those more epic ones at all. I wonder if they would have the same impact on me, given I'd be reading them as an adult?

I didn't love the 2nd and 3rd books in the Mr Mercedes series (the whole paranormal thing really wasn't the direction I wanted that series to go), but I didn't hate them either. This one felt more like Mr Mercedes, even though it did have the paranormal element front and centre. Maybe because the focus was on the investigation and the characters.

And I think King's writing is crack.

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