After a rather dismal outing in Sleeping Beauties, my first Stephen King novel in a handful of years, I had kept my expectations for The Outsider firmly in check. I went into this novel with the expectation and hope that I would, at the very least, like it. Turns out, I freaking loved it!
Right from the very start, King grabbed me. And he didn't let go for the entire book's duration. The Outsider is gripping from page one, and reminds us why Stephen King is a storytelling master. Opening with a section called "The Arrest," King gives us a bit of a double-narrative. In the present-day, Detective Ralph Anderson is set to make an arrest in a gruesome homicide of a young boy. Jogging alongside this build-up toward the arrest is a bit of backstory, told through witness interviews, and police, forensic, and morgue reports, that give us the inside scoop on the victim and the perpetrator, Terry Maitland, a youth baseball coach in the midst of a season-ending game in a packed stadium. Anderson wants Maitland's arrest public, to be a spectacle of shame, and the case against Maitland is airtight - they have his DNA, his fingerprints, a number of witnesses accounting for virtually every one of his movements immediately leading up to and following the murder. It's an open and shut case.
Until it isn't. Until King starts to sow seeds of doubt into the case, small seeds initially, which blossom into wild, unexpected growths, and bits of information that blow the entire case apart and leave Anderson reeling.
The Outsider begins as a police procedural, one that sinks its hooks in deep with its compelling narrative and characters. Regarding the heinous murder of a child, it would have been easy for King to go the route of gruesome, exploitative shock if he wanted. Instead, he approached the case with an almost clinical detachment, delivering the details through impersonal reports from the various departments involved in a murder investigation. He let's us build our own nightmares from the information imparted in these transcriptions, which is a brilliant way to do it. There's a reason King is the Master of Horror, and The Outsider is very much a horror novel. The procedural elements are merely prelude, the meat and potatoes of the narrative backbone that get us to where we're going. What begins as a story of a very real human monster eventually takes on supernatural overtones as the narrative shifts toward the inexplicable. King's Constant Readers will likely find plenty of reason to celebrate the subtle links and parallels established between this work and earlier stories, including the Bill Hodges trilogy.
Some hash has been made over whether or not The Outsider is a continuation of the Hodges trilogy. I can't speak to that, as I never read that trilogy, but I am aware that the character of Holly Gibney appeared previously in those books. The Outsider is intended to be a standalone novel and works perfectly well on its own. However, Holly's introduction here necessitates the revealing of plenty of information regarding the Hodges trilogy by King. If, like me, you haven't read those prior books, you can expect a lot of spoilers for them throughout the last half of The Outsider. So, take that as you will and determine how to proceed.
If you don't mind having the Hodges books spoiled, then absolutely read The Outsider immediately. Do it right now. This book is simply that good. It's easily one of the most compelling narratives I've read this year, and the way King builds this book, effortlessly shifting from police procedural to horror, and injecting enough shocks to keep readers on their toes the whole way through, is absolutely masterful.
The Outsider could have been another phoned-in affair, like Under the Dome, which oftentimes felt like a Greatest Hits retread of King's most prominent works, or worse, Sleeping Beauties, a joyless and dull co-written imitation of King's epics that never captured any of the magic. Instead, this is a pure shot of adrenalized King straight to the heart. It's powerful and gripping, and a whole lot of damn fun, and it sucked me in deep enough that I was positively living this book the whole time it took me to read it. After more than 50 published novels to his credit, there's little reason for The Outsider to be as good as it is, and yet it's not just good - it's one of King's best. Not just one of his best in years, mind you, but one of his best period. This is the Master of Horror doing what he does best - giving us convincing characters alongside a larger-than-life horror, and scaring the hell out of us along the way.
View all my reviews