The Outsider - Stephen King Review
“Doesn’t look like a monster, does he?”
“They rarely do.”
I first want to comment on the “old school king” vs “new king”. All the reviews I’ve read of The Outsider are like “it’s not old school King, but it’s still great!”. Buds, King has been writing for decades and published over 50 novels and 100's of short stories. In that time he has progressed as a writer and changed as a person and in turn so has his writing style and stories. Our main characters now are usually men in their 40's+ and there’s less supernatural monsters and more human type monsters. This is a natural progression that I have enjoyed reading throughout the years.
So, no, this is not “old school king”, this is Stephen mother fuckin’ King. And he wrote a great new novel that mixes murder mystery with old folklore and mixes it well.
The story begins with a horrific murder of a child and his body being discovered in the woods. The police have figured out who committed this atrocious crime and have the DNA, fingerprints, and witness statements to back it up. Terry Maitland, the local little league coach and teacher/hero is the suspect and is publicly arrested in front of the whole town. Ralph Anderson, the detective, is unnerved when Terry seems completely innocent and even provides a solid alibi the day and night of the murder. The Outsider follows the repercussions of this crime, this arrest, and takes the reader down a wonderfully confusing and terrifying path.
It’s a fast paced novel with diverse and well thought out characters and a few horrifying reveals. I’m going to continue the review below with spoilers because it’s too hard to not talk about it without spoiling and there’s too many things to spoil!
But I encourage you to read this book, take a weekend, get comfy and delve into the story of Terry and Ralph and the fucked up world around them…
“Strange, the things you noticed when your day—your life—suddenly went over a cliff you hadn’t even known was there.”
One thing I always joke about being a Stephen King fan is ‘never get too attached to a character cause Stevie will kill them’. Without fail, every King book I’ve read (which is all of them), my favorite character has died and broken my heart. The Outsider does exactly that, and pretty damn quickly. But it’s an important death – I’m talking about Terry Maitland. Just as you are lured into a sense of comfort that Terry will be able to prove his innocence, he’s murdered tragically on the court house steps. And my heart in turn is murdered. But as soon as this tragic event happens, the story goes completely off the rails in the best way.
You spend the first few chapters just plowing through, getting attached to Terry, and trying to figure out exactly what’s going on and then Terry is murdered and it causes a shift in the main characters to start believing in something unnatural going on. How is it that one man can be seen, on camera, in one city, while at the same time seen kidnapping a child in another? It’s an incredibly cool concept.
And here comes the next spoiler which delighted me to no end! Marcy Maitland’s lawyer and private detective reach out to Holly Gibney to help them solve this case. HOLLY!!!! You may recognize her from the Bill Hodges trilogy as the mentally unstable but incredible assistant to Bill. She’s so sweet, and so incredibly smart and I was absolutely shocked when she showed up and became a main character. You can tell King loves her as well because he writes Holly very well, really able to get inside her head. I was so happy to see what she'd been up to since Bill sadly passed (THANKS STEPHEN) and how far she had come.
The creature reveal – it being a folk lore vampire from Mexican culture – is pretty great. It starts with Holly believing wholeheartedly and the rest of the group tiptoeing around believing which builds a great dynamic between the investigation group. King of course takes the original lore and puts his own twist on it. This monster “steals” the faces of regular folks and murders children as them, placing DNA and evidence along the way before moving onto the next victim. It’s an incredibly well thought out story and one that I loved unraveling along with the cast.
I grew to love Ralph a lot, King is always great at writing strong male leads who feel incredibly realistic and don’t come off all “heroic” while still managing to be a hero. Holly though, is the true hero of this story and I would love a whole new trilogy of Ralph and Holly stories. Ralph’s wife Jeannie was another favorite of mine, her natural sense of belief in the paranormal reminded me a lot of myself. I love that after looking at all the evidence she goes straight to paranormal and is offended when Ralph doesn’t come with her. Her strong love for her husband and family was also a nice change of pace from other horror novels.
One of my favorite things about King is his realism in the most unrealistic environment. When you try to explain the plot of a King novel to someone else it sounds insane, but the way he creates the story and pulls you along with it, you are a 100% a believer. I also love his character development, he’ll take an entire chapter just to explain a side character that goes on to die four chapters later, but it just brings you completely into the world. He builds his families realistically and rarely includes the hysterical element that seems to pop up in most horror novels.
END OF SPOILERS
“We came from blackness, it seems logical to assume that it’s to blackness we return.”
Overall, I loved The Outsider and I wished it was 400 pages longer, but realistically it was the perfect length. I’m never shocked that King continues to output incredible work, I’m just here to let you know his new novel is fantastic and you should read it.