Master of Horror and Mystery: A Review of The Outsider, by Stephen King

Not everyone reads books for romance or adventure.  For every book with happy events and writing that makes you feel good, there are five more than plumb the depths of depravity.  The horror stories, the mystery tales.  These are the books one reads when they want to examine the darkness that can exist out there in the unknown.  We read mysteries because we do not want to know everything, and we read horror because we want to be scared.  These genres are often paired together in an unholy matrimony of darkness, decay, and eldritch scares.  Horror and mystery combine perfectly for the simple reason that we do not know everything.

Stephen King is arguably the master of horror and mystery.  Since 1967, when King published is first story, he has written fifty-eight novels, many of which have been adapted into TV shows or movies.  While he is known for his supernatural horror and mystery stories, King is equally famous for his seminal work of fantasy, The Dark Tower and his break from character, The Green Mile, among many, many others.  He has managed to publish one or two books a year for decades and shows no signs of slowing down.  The Outsider was only his first book of 2018.  Time and time again, Stephen King has proven himself to be a master of genre, and The Outsider only bolsters his record.

The Outsider begins with an investigation.  A young boy, Frank Peterson, was kidnapped, brutally raped, and ultimately murdered in the fictional Oklahoma town of Flint City.  The police’s one and only suspect is Terry Maitland, a local celebrity teacher known for coaching little league and all manger of junior sports.  The lead detective, Ralph Anderson, has a son who was coached by Maitland.  In the beginning of the novel, we jump back and forth between the POV’s of these two men.  Anderson is single-minded in his investigation and we see him interview witness after witness who place Maitland near the scene of the crime around the right time.  We see meetings between Anderson and the District Attorney, Samuels, discussing the mountain of fingerprints and DNA evidence linking Maitland to the crime.  There is no mystery in the opening chapters of this novel.  However, whenever we jump over to Terry’s head, his only concern is the upcoming little league game.  We see him with his wife, his two young daughters, and there is no evidence of the monster we know him to be.

Stephen King being Stephen King, and this novel presenting itself as a mystery, mean that things twist around as soon as Terry Maitland is arrested by Ralph Anderson and the Flint City Police Department.  Maitland has an alibi as rock-solid as the evidence against him.  Eyewitnesses place him in a different city on the day of the murder, where Terry and his teacher colleagues attended a reading and talk with one of their favorite mystery novelists.  Any thoughts of witness tampering or possible loopholes for Maitland to still be guilty disappear with one piece of evidence.  The Q&A session was televised and occurred at the time of the murder.  At the precise moment Frank Peterson was murdered, Terry Maitland was filmed by the local news walking up the podium and asking an author about his book.  Up until this point, there is no hint that anything supernatural could occur in the novel.  But the fact remains, a man cannot be in two places at once.

Terry Maitland may be a point-of-view character for the first third of the novel, but he is not one of our main characters.  We follow Ralph Anderson throughout the novel and are introduced to Holly Gibney later on as a private detective hired to investigate Maitland’s activity and answer some unanswered question.  These two characters could not be more different.  Ralph is a skeptic through and through, whereas Holly is a believer in the supernatural, having experienced it in several of King’s other novels.  Holly Gibney is meticulous and tightly wound, while Ralph Anderson is a lot calmer and fluid.  There are similarities, which end up bonding the characters are they chases the mysteries that Ralph does not want to believe.  Ralph and Holly and strong, neither willing to turn their backs on a true monster just because it clashes with their world view.  In the end, these are the two that face the outsider and are willing to do whatever is necessary to stop greater evil from occurring.

Stephen King’s writing is, as always when he writes supernatural horror and mystery, tense.  There is always the sense that something horrific could happen on any given page, the sense of dread that permeates every word.  The characters feel it and we feel it.  Something is very, very wrong in their lives and King makes sure we understand the fear and effect trauma is having on these fictional lives.  And, even though he jumps between multiple character’s point-of-view’s, the writing for each person is unique.  Ralph’s mind spins and unravels mysteries.  Terry is filled with love and worry for his family.  Jack Hoskins is an angry alcoholic, raging at imaginary injustices.  Holly is high-strung but knows how to manage her perceived defects.  King fills each character with satisfying life.

Even now, in the midst of so long a career, Stephen King still knows how to write something new and come up with interesting ideas.  The Outsider never feels like it is retreading old stories and plot twists, though he cannot resist linking it to some of his other novels.  The loosely connected fictional universe is just a staple of his writing by now.  The character of the outsider, just like the book itself, takes some familiar functions of mystery and horror and creates something brand new and terrifying.  This is a man who lives to write interesting novels and create interesting characters, and he shows no signs of slowing down.  His imagination is without bounds and, if he can continue crafting novels with interesting plot and wonderful characters, he will always have an audience.

The Outsider can be found in store, online, or wherever books are sold

Total Read Time: 12 days

Next on the List: Kill the Queen, by Jennifer Estep

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