Author: Stephen King
Type: Fiction, novel
I read it: July 2018
Something compelled me to check out King’s latest release this summer, although I don’t religiously keep up on everything he does. Perhaps it was a leftover feeling after re-reading the Dark Tower series—I wanted a reference point for King’s present style, having been so immersed in previous works. Really, it was probably just seeing the clip of him talking to Colbert while promoting the new book that caused me to look into it.
I’m familiar enough with the author, and my own reactions to his work, to go in with completely neutral expectations. And I was happy to find out that this book was well worth my time, a super solid standalone mystery thriller. It doesn’t tie in to any of his recent series (to my knowledge) and although it has an intriguing baddie with shades of King’s previous villains, there’s no obvious attempt to work the story into a larger background mythology. As much as I love the career-long King tapestry as a whole, it’s cool that The Outsider is a book you can recommend completely on its own.
The central mystery is who killed a young boy in an Oklahoma town. It’s a seemingly impossible crime, because the prime suspect is both undoubtedly guilty yet apparently completely innocent. The details of the murder are horrific (it’d be nice to just have black blocks over a few paragraphs in the text) but the unraveling of the case is fascinating to witness. King is wont raise the question in many of his stories: is the real issue the single font of evil that has sprung up, or is it the way that everyday people treat each other? One complaint early in the novel is that it’s hard to tell who the main character is. We start to follow a small group of loyal cops, but they don’t pop off the page nearly as much as the plot itself. (Perhaps it doesn’t help that one of their names is “Ralph.” Who can remember a Ralph?) The group gets more interesting partway through, with the addition of a reluctant female investigator who becomes crucial to the proceedings.
But for constant readers, the real central mystery of the book is whether or not the supernatural will be involved. Is this story a creative but down-to-earth whodunnit, or are there monsters lurking in the shadows? I won’t go into the answer here, as it’s a delight to watch things unfold for yourself. I was a big fan of both the direction the story went but also how it got there. King always makes an effort to be honest about his characters’ reactions to wild events.
I had some schedule serendipity with this book that added a bit of fun. The kickoff date for the plot is July 14, my wife’s birthday, and I started reading it the night before that, while she was out having a good time with her friends. A couple of weeks later, another important date aligned with my reading: July 27 was the climax of the action, and also the day my copy was due back at the library. Does anyone else get a kick out of these coincidences? In general, I like reading a story during the time of year that it takes place. So in the hot muggy middle of summer, consider diving into The Outsider.