Genre: Crime Thriller, Horror
Publishing Info: Hodder & Stoughton (2018)
Back Cover Summary:
A horrifying crime.
Water-tight evidence points to a single suspect.
Except he was seventy miles away, with an iron-clad alibi.
Detective Anderson sets out to investigate the impossible: how can the suspect have been both at the scene of the crime and in another town.
*Warning: This review contains spoilers relating to the plot*
Outsider is my first experience of the works of Stephen King and it most certainly won’t be my last. The use of character and the ability to truly shock the reader makes this crime thriller, featuring some of King’s trademark horror, one to add to your reading lists.
The first half of Outsider does a great job at building up tension and creating more questions than it answers. The horrendous murder of a boy, described in graphic detail by King, appears to be a cut and dry case, with multiple witnesses and DNA evidence linking successful little league baseball coach Terry Maitland to the disturbing murder. However Maitland was hundreds of miles away, confirmed by multiple witnesses and CCTV recordings, at the time of the murder. The police procedurals and interviews in this section are particularly successful, as King uses well thought out one-off characters to highlight attitudes towards Maitland and the murder, as well as the nature of the Flint City society; it is quick to judge and jump to conclusions and engrossed in their own problems. Following Detective Ralph Anderson, the Flint City PD and the building of the case against Maitland allows for greater interaction between the readers and this book. Though the murders are horrific and the perpetrator supernatural, Outsider challenges its readers to solve the central mystery before the police, which pays dividends when the character of Holly is introduced and provides a solution. In typical King style, there are several twists that will blindside the readers and one in particular left me with my mouth open in shock for several minutes. This is a mystery that will keep readers guessing and, with the twists and turns in the narrative, becomes an enjoyable read that spurs you on to solve the case.
Following the forementioned shocking event, there is a tonal shift that takes the book firmly into horror territory, which is a good decision. With the central characters starting to put the pieces into places, they are terrorised by a menacing individual who can creep into houses at night, can persuade a character that they have given them cancer from a single touch and, in the opinion of a child, has a face made of clay with straws for eyes. Revealed to be supernatural, the nature of this being is obvious to any who are familiar with King as a writer, but is a terrifying concept all the same. This is when King’s chosen viewpoint for this book changes. In the first half, this was shared between several characters, all of whom had some connection to the Terry Maitland case, but this shifts to be mainly focused on Ralph Anderson. He acts as the audience surrogate for the introduction of the supernatural elements, which is apt when the killer turns their eye to him. The tension keeps building and culminates in a nerve-wracking final sequence of events, one which convinces readers that no one is safe from this being. Though the final confrontation with the being is surprisingly short for the amount of tenson built up, the horror elements do compliment and strengthen the narrative overall.
The final third of this book brings in a character from the Bill Hodges crime series, also written by King. Ultimately, I am in two minds about this potentially risky move. On the one hand the character of Holly Gibney drives the plot right forward using her investigatory skills. Her character also brings a very different dynamic, being an outsider to Flint City and having experienced events from the Bill Hodges series that could not be explained naturally. Though she is essentially used at first as a source of exposition, she crucially is the one who helps the other characters – in particular Ralph Anderson – to believe. It is highly doubtful that the culprit would have been caught had she not have been introduced. Holly also has the most development and potential going forward, which is unsurprising given that she has appeared in other King works, but at the same time pleasing that she has been given her own collection of stories. On the other hand, the final few pages, suggesting a romantic connection between Holly and Ralph, doesn’t feel necessary or particularly well thought-out. They did experience the confrontation with the killer together but it does leave me feeling uneasy, especially as Ralph’s wife is written in a sympathetic light. Also, fair warning that Holly does describe in detail her past experiences in the Bill Hodges series, and what became of Bill and Brady Hartsfield, so I would recommend not reading this until completing unless you do not mind spoilers. Though Holly is a source of exposition at first, she is also the anchor that connects the supernatural killer with the grounded Flint City characters and, for that reason, she is a successful conclusion in the narrative.
Outsider was my first foray into the writing of Stephen King, and it definitely made me want to read more of his works. The use of characterisation and the build up of tension really helps to extenuate the impact that the central murder has on the Flint City community and the threat, though ending with nothing more than a whimper, provides many creepy moments as it terrorises the protagonists. Along with a couple of truly shocking moments, and the return of a character from another King work that readers will be delighted to see pop up, this is a great read, one which I was unable to put down.
Star Rating: 4/5
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