The Outsider

by Stephen King


Reading Review by Michael Channing

The Outsider by Stephen King

The Outsider starts as a mystery. It's a grisly crime: the molestation, murder, and partial cannibalizing of a young boy in a small town. The killer is spotted and identified by multiple people, first with the boy then without him but covered in blood. Everyone in town is familiar with the killer. He's a teacher and the coach of the school baseball team. It's an open-and-shut case. At first.

Tension mounts as the police arrest the suspect in front of half the town. The suspect lawyers up. The detective and defense gather clues, and it slowly comes to light that the suspect seems to have been in two places at once at the time of the murder. The evidence on both sides seems incontrovertible.

I've only read a handful of true mystery novels, but this seems like a fairly standard game that mystery writers set up. Something looks one way, but diligent detective work will uncover the truth. The reader, meanwhile, will try to guess the solution ahead of the hero. This book follows that same sort of outline. It establishes the rules of play, makes us think it will be a mystery with maybe a bit of procedural drama thrown in for spice. We wonder, can Stephen King do that? He just finished up a trio of books that, while not even close to mysteries, at least buy into the detective/criminal formula, so maybe he can. But this is Stephen King after all, and the book cover hints at his usual horrific fair. For the first part of the book, I was unsure of what to expect, which could be good, but genre fiction, by just its existence, feeds the reader’s expectations. You don’t expect Sherlock Holmes to discover an actual ghost committed the crime.

In addition to genre issues, The Outsider has trouble deciding who the hero is. Right in the middle of the story, another character appears and takes over as main protagonist. The story stops, becomes something entirely different, and hands the narrative reigns over to someone who wasn’t there for the instigating event. It’s jarring.

But, that aside, it’s a good book. It’s not going to stand beside King classics like The Stand, It, Misery, The Drawing of the Three, etc. but it’s not The Tommyknockers, either. Some sections are King at his frightening best, and the pacing of this long book never feels sluggish. In between the breathless, haunting moments and the bloody gut-punches we crave, not every scene shines so bright, but they never go fully dark. You get your money's worth, even if you don’t at first know what you’re buying.

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