Since today is Halloween, it’s inevitable that I will once again look at a book by Stephen King. This time, it’s his 2018 novel The Outsider. The best way that I can describe it is what if King wrote a 15-part episode of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, Monk, and The X-Files in that order. Not all of it works, but it’s still a good read.
The Outsider asks the question, “What if someone was in two places at the same time?” In the town of Flint City, Oklahoma, an 11-year-old boy is found dead in the park. Eyewitnesses and fingerprints all point to one prominent figure: Terry Maitland – Little League Coach, English teacher, husband, and father of two girls. Detective Ralph Anderson, whose son was once coached by Maitland, orders a quick and public arrest. Maitland has an alibi, but Anderson and the district attorney have DNA evidence to back up their claims. The case seems ironclad, but as investigation continues, horrifying answers begin to emerge. In addition, what seems impossible is not quite so. Was Terry the real culprit, or was it someone else who looked exactly like him?
Let’s start off with the Law and Order: SUV part. The summary basically describes an episode of that series. In fact, I even imagined Ralph to be similar to Elliot Stabler in terms of temperament and impulse. The novel handles much of the investigation as one would if they watched a bunch of law shows. For example, in real life, no one from the force would arrest someone in public before all of the evidence was gathered and analyzed. Granted, Ralph does eventually regret that decision, but I feel that was done to get the initial plot going. In addition, the first third of the book focuses on every single detail of the investigation. So much so that the pacing slows down. This is highly evident in the scenes involving the interviews. It only gets interesting again when there’s an incident involving Terry and the victim’s older brother at the courthouse. Let’s just say that it’s similar to that of The Survivors Club by Lisa Gardner. Finally, sections involving how the media coverage affects the investigation as well as Terry’s wife and daughters were very intriguing. If this were solely a Law and Order: SUV episode, King could’ve spent more time focusing on how the media influences a verdict even when not all the evidence is available and analyzed, and it would’ve been fascinating. But, he didn’t because he wanted to introduce a character from a previous series and some supernatural elements.
Speaking of that person, let’s talk about Holly Gibney. She may possibly have OCD, is obsessed with movies, and has very specific ways of doing things. Despite her flaws, her attention to detail and ability to leave no stone unturned are her greatest assets. In other words, she’s a female version of the titular detective from Monk. Holly comes in around the halfway point, which is about 300-400 pages in the story, after Ralph discovers that there was a similar assault/murder in Dayton, Ohio. She was previously in the Bill Hodges trilogy, and The Outsider is the first book in her own series. I’ve not read any other King book besides Rose Madder, so this was my introduction to her. Readers like myself who haven’t read the Bill Hodges series might not quite understand the hints to her backstory, while for those who have, they will probably be delighted with the callbacks. As for Holly herself, some people might find her to be two-dimensional, mainly defined by her quirks, and annoying after a while. I personally didn’t find her that way because she reminds me of me in a variety of ways. Sometimes, the strongest and bravest people are the ones that people least expect, and that’s what Holly represents. I also liked the rapport between her and Ralph as the investigation went on.
Finally, let’s talk about The X-Files section. Like with Holly, this gets introduced at roughly the halfway point of the story. This would’ve been stronger if the supernatural elements came in much earlier in the story since this plays an important role. I get that the book’s cover is supposed to suggest a creature beyond our normal understanding will grace the pages, yet it should’ve factored into the plot more than it already does. I won’t tell you what it is (readers will have to find this out for themselves), but I will say that all it took to destroy it was a blackjack hidden in a sock. This might sound cool, but after a long conversation between Ralph and the creature and how the former shouldn’t kill the latter made the climax underwhelming. In addition, the monster and what happened to it was simply creepy. It didn’t scare me at all. Normally, this wouldn’t bother me, yet this is written Stephen King of all people. He has scared people and put them in terrifying situations while reading his books. I felt that way while reading Rose Madder, but not here. Maybe if the creature arrived much earlier in the novel, then maybe I would’ve felt more unsettled. It doesn’t help that Ralph has nightmares about the monster after all was said and done in the many endings that rival that of The Return of the King. This plot is already insane by having the supernatural element there in the first place. King could’ve gone further by incorporating that aspect more.
As for Stephen King’s overall writing style, it’s what one expects from his work. However, I got annoyed after he mentions the same descriptions over and over again. For example, King describes district attorney Bill Samuels with a cowlick similar to that of Alfalfa’s from The Little Rascals. At first, this was amusing. Then, it became cute. After that, I was shouting, “Ok, I get it!”
Furthermore, King adds some weird details in this book. This is especially true when he mentions Holly’s small breasts and Jeanie’s – Ralph’s wife – nipples in parts I least expected. They simply took me out of the story.
Will Patton narrates the audiobook. He has appeared in films like Remember the Titans and Armageddon as well as television shows like Yellowstone. Additionally, he has recorded several audiobooks for books like Killers of the Flower Moon and for authors like James Lee Burke and, yes, Stephen King. In fact, Patton has done the Bill Hodges trilogy as well as the second title in the Holly Gibney one If It Bleeds. His performance was full of strong choices even if there were some misses. He gives Ralph determination, which can be impulsive at times, while he provides Holly a mousy-like voice along with strange inflections. My personal favorite was his readings as Luvie Bolton. He gives her a big, but strained voice that one could recognize miles away. This interpretation perfectly aligns with the minor character as she, in her declining health, carries an oxygen tank with her at all times. I also want to add that Patton does a great job staying in character even when he’s not reading dialogue. This is most apparent when Jeanie first encounters the outsider.
There are only two things that I had to complain about. One of them is that his Mexican characters tended to sound stereotypical. I say this even though there’s an effective bit in the book, where the characters watch a Mexican movie with Speedy Gonzales-like English dubbing. The other is that I had to adjust the volume so many times in order to hear what Patton was saying as well as prevent my ears from getting blown off. He gets very quiet in certain places and then becomes loud in a matter of seconds. I had a similar issue with Eric Idle’s performance in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory audiobook.
In summary, The Outsider is a bloated, but interesting book in Stephen King’s body of work. The novel would’ve been better if he had picked one or two ideas at most and run with those as opposed to trying to incorporate three of them at the same time. On the other hand, in true King fashion, it’s so insane that it kept my interest going until the very end. I would recommend it to those who are already Stephen King fans as well as for those who love horror, supernatural elements, and reading about murder investigations. Although it’s not among his classics, it’s definitely worth checking out.
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