By: Stephen King
560 pages (It’s a HEFTY book, but the pages will fly by)
Published May 22, 2018
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 the father of two girls. Detective Ralph Anderson, whose son Maitland once coached, orders a quick and very public arrest. The case seems ironclad, especially when Anderson and the district attorney are able to add DNA evidence to go with the fingerprints and witnesses. But Maitland had an alibi, and it turns out his story had incontrovertible evidence of its own.
How can two opposing stories be true? What happens to a family when an accusation of this magnitude is delivered? When must reason or rationality be abandoned in order to explain the inexplicable? As the investigation expands and the 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 as only Stephen King can.
I love love love love thrillers. I like the suspense, the constant guessing game (Who dunnit??), the flawed characters, and that feeling I get when the mystery starts to unravel and I feel my stomach clench and my breathing hitch. No other book genre can recreate the same visceral reaction in me.
The Outsider did not let me down. It had it all. Flawed characters? Take your pick, they are everywhere, and they will drive you nuts. Suspense? You got it; don’t read this book alone at night if you’re one who gets jumpy. Constant guessing game? Let’s just say, this book is 500+ pages long and things didn’t become clear until maybe the last 100 pages. Even then, there was still some shred of doubt.
What I liked about The Outsider is King subtly shows the reader that behind the supernatural, sometimes the most terrifying thing is human nature itself. It’s clear from the epigraph that this book is more than what it presents on its surface:
“Thought only gives the world an appearance of order to anyone weak enough to be convinced by its show.”
“The Country of the Blind”
Yes, it is obvious that the supernatural–werewolves, vampires, ghosts, witches–are scary. In The Outsider, when the signs begin to point more and more towards a supernatural being as the cause of the terror, things begin to feel even scarier. How can you defeat something that isn’t human? What is real and what is just a dream? Is there any place to hide from something not limited by the physical constraints of the human body?
But behind all of the obvious is another–more realistic–terror storyline that King tries to present: How quickly the “civilized” facade of human nature can be ripped away with only the slightest of provocations. This is evident in how Terry Maitland goes from a beloved baseball coach and esteemed community member to child murderer in a matter of seconds. The laws meant to protect humans begin to dissolve as passion and emotion take over. Innocent until proven guilty cannot protect one outside the courtroom, and certainly not the families of those accused. Once accused, not even incontrovertible evidence of innocence can fully acquit the accused.
The Outsider reads more like a warning than a fictional piece for reading pleasure. It left me feeling disquieted and thoughtful. How much would it take for me to lose my humanity?
Favorite Character Holly. She comes in late, but she steals the show. She’s the most open-minded of any of the characters in the book, and she consistently goes outside of her comfort zone to help solve the mystery. She’s witty, she’s resourceful, she thinks two steps ahead, and she doesn’t let any of the men who don’t believe her talk her down from her beliefs.