In his new release, The Outsider: A Novel, Stephen King takes us on a mission to solve the mystery of a murder. This isn’t just any murder. An eleven-year old boy has been killed and his body mutilated horrifically. All the evidence and eyewitnesses point to an unlikely suspect. Terry Maitland is a respected English teacher, with a wife and two daughters, who also coaches Little League. Well known in the small town of Flint, he is easily recognized. But, Maitland denies any involvement.
Arrested at a Little League game he is coaching, Maitland’s wife and daughters are traumatized watching him led away in handcuffs. News of the arrest spreads through the town and friends turn against Terry. After a tragic and bizarre attack at the courthouse as Terry is taken for arraignment, the story takes on a truly mysterious twist. Conflicting evidence leaves investigators questioning themselves and witnesses. Meanwhile, Terry’s wife fights to prove his innocence.
Terry’s lawyer reaches out to a character familiar from earlier King books. If the reader had any question about how this story would go, the appearance of Holly Gibney from the Mr. Mercedes trilogy assures us something unclean is waiting in the dark.
King deftly handles the investigative and legal aspects of a murder investigation. In fact, his attention to detail almost overshadows the horror of the story. I said ALMOST. His descriptions of the crime are vivid in true King fashion.
Expertly leading us along, King weaves his tale of dark suspense, creating a character reminiscent of Pennywise. What you think you see is not what you get. While all the characters are interesting, Holly Gibney steals the show. She is so well developed the reader will feel a personal connection to the somewhat odd woman.
There are enough twists and turns to keep you reading. In some instances the events are predictable. They are challenged by the unexpected King slips into the paranormal to keep things interesting.
On the downside, I wish the character of Frankie had been more developed. It’s difficult to care about the murder of a child, no matter how graphic and disturbing, if you don’t know more about him. The same can be said about Maitland’s daughters. King is usually great at bringing the children in his books vividly to life. That skill is lacking in this book.
All in all, The Outsider: A Novel, is somewhat formulaic. The dark corners aren’t quite dark enough. I’m a great fan of King’s and get through his books rapidly as I hunger for the climactic monster behind the curtain. This monster may be unpleasant but not up to King’s creature under the bed. It’s possible he is laying the groundwork for a new series. If so, I hope he builds up the tension a bit more. And Stephen, I miss the beautiful verbiage and lyrical wordiness of old. Don’t lose that! It’s part of what makes a King novel exceptional.