In Stephen King’s latest novel, “The Outsider,” at first, you think you’re entering a scenario thematically similar to the one presented in King’s trio of Bill Hodges books, “Mr. Mercedes,” “Finders Keepers” and “End of Watch.”
In a city in the middle of the country, a terrible crime has occurred: the brutal murder of a young boy. Detective Ralph Anderson thinks he’s got a lock on the case, but as things progress, he comes to realize that what he thought was a sure bet — that beloved local baseball coach and English teacher Terry Maitland has committed the awful deed — comes into question.
There’s even a character that ties the Bill Hodges series to the new book: Holly Gibney, the enigmatic private eye who takes over the P.I. agency after Bill’s death. She first appears in “The Outsider” almost exactly halfway into the book.
The similarities end there, though. Once you’re a few hundred pages or so in, you realize that, in true King fashion, your initial expectations have been turned on their head — replaced with something far more sinister.
“The Outsider” is, in many ways, an ideal combination of classic King supernatural terror and his more contemporary foray into crime writing, wedding an intricately plotted whodunit with a monster tale that has more than a few shades of “It.”
As with so many other King tales, the sum of the story is more than its parts. Though it can easily be taken at face value as a fast-paced, enjoyably creepy joyride through King territory, a closer read reveals far more at play.
The rotten heart at the center of “The Outsider” is the supernatural terror that infects the Oklahoma city where the story is mostly set. It’s a faceless, child-killing monster — a less flashy Pennywise, if you will. As the monster slowly reveals itself, it spreads not just violence, but also hatred, discord and “alternative facts.”
The first half of the book does drag a bit. King takes his sweet time setting up every card in his crime yarn castle, only to knock them all down in the much scarier second half of the book, once fan favorite character Holly arrives and the going gets rough. All that methodical plotting pays off, however, as King has built a fully realized world for his characters to play in.
“The Outsider” is one of King’s strongest books in the past decade; an enjoyable dovetailing of crime and supernatural horror that will please Constant Readers and newcomers alike.
“The Outsider” is out now, available wherever books are sold.
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