Book Review: The Outsider, by Stephen King

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Genre: Horror

Format: Audiobook

I picked up The Outsider because I kept seeing the menacing cover at the library, in bookstore windows, and on my Libby app, like it was stalking me. I finally gave in and listened to the audiobook. The narrator’s voice was a little slow for me, so I had to speed up the recording to help keep my attention, but once I made this small adjustment, I was enthralled.

Now it’s time for me to make a confession: before The Outsider, I’d read only a few Stephen King books, and only one novel. That’s pretty shocking, considering I’m a horror writer, but I guess I always felt like King was making plenty of money, and had plenty of readers, and didn’t need my help. Plus I’m a bit of a contrarian, deep down. Not reading what everyone else is reading was a small act of rebellion.

Once I started reading with the purpose of improving my own fiction, however, it quickly became clear that I simply couldn’t avoid reading Stephen King if I wanted to make it in the horror genre. To become a master, one must study the masters, and if anyone can be considered a modern master of the genre, it’s definitely Stephen King. So, here I am, listening to The Outsider, looking for the secret ingredient that makes Stephen King’s writing an international phenomenon.

And I have to hand it to him: this novel was very good. I want to read more of his work, and probably will. The Outsider takes a creepy, unsettling concept–a murderous doppleganger–and turns it into a truly chilling story. In typical King style, there are several characters through which the narrative is revealed, and the first and most important of these is Ralph Anderson, a police detective in the fictional small town of Flint City, Oklahoma. The story starts with the discovery of a child’s mutilated corpse, so if you’re unable to read about children in peril, you might want to skip this one. Anderson finds several witnesses and even DNA evidence that places the town’s Little League coach, Terry Maitland, as the prime suspect. Anderson is so certain of Maitland’s guilt, perhaps blinded by his own disgust and revulsion that the killer lives among the citizens of the sleepy town, that he decides to make the arrest public. Everything else that happens in the book stems from this one choice, and much of Anderson’s motivations end up fueled by regret. Making such a monumental mistake, one that changes lives and that can’t be taken back, is everyone’s worst nightmare, and this realistic horror adds layers to the supernatural horror elements. Anderson’s need for closure and penance drive the narrative forward when other detectives might have closed the case and moved on with their lives.

King has no compunctions about killing his characters and keeping his readers on his toes, constantly twisting and turning the story in unexpected ways. My favorite of the POV characters was Holly Gibney, who was the most fleshed-out of the characters because she was borrowed from another King novel, Mr. Mercedes. Holly is a private investigator, bright and creative but awkward. She pushes herself to do her job well though she struggles with an anxiety disorder. I can relate, so the story really became intriguing for me around the time her character was hired to help crack the case. I truly appreciated seeing a character who was like me in fiction, especially as King showed the amount of therapy, routine, self-care, and self-talk it requires for Holly to do tasks that are simple for other people, while surprising everyone with her competence in a high-adrenaline emergency situation.

I recommended this book to my dad, whose tastes are very different from mine, because even though it’s horror, it’s also a detective mystery and a thriller that just happens to have a supernatural murderer rather than a human one. Anyone who enjoys detective mysteries, thrillers, and supernatural horror will probably enjoy it. I know I certainly did. And perhaps this is part of the secret to King’s widespread popularity: his horror novels don’t feel like horror novels, so even people who normally eschew horror are willing to give them a try, because they know they’ll enjoy the deep characterization and solving the mystery at the heart of the book along with the intrepid detectives.

Overall rating: 5/5 stars

You can read more of my book reviews on Goodreads. If you enjoyed this post, please consider buying my new fiction collection or backing my Patreon. I’m not currently accepting books for review, but I will consider recommendations, so comment away! Thanks for reading! 🙂

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