Stephen King’s latest throws back to his earlier work, though it starts with a fascinating premise. A man stands accused of a horrific crime. The police have incontrovertible evidence of his guilt. He has incontrovertible evidence of his innocence.
Title: The Outsider
Author: Stephen King
First published in May 2018
A small town experiences a wave of horror and death following the brutal sex-slaying of a boy. Police arrest a prominent citizen, a good man with no record, against whom they appear to have incontrovertible evidence. The defense, however, also has found definitive evidence putting the suspect in another city when the crime took place.
Several investigators wrestle with the contradiction, before confronting a solution they do not want to accept, but which may nevertheless destroy them.
The book features a fascinating premise that bridges horror and crime genres, and the early chapters prove as page-turning as anything King has written in his long, successful career.
The premise might be explored for what it is, resulting in a Kafkaesque sort of novel. It might have even been given the conventional detective fiction treatment, if a solution could be found that isn’t just a gimmick…
…instead, King veers into conventional, comfortable Stephen King horror territory. If someone who only knew King’s reputation and perhaps seen a couple horror-movie adaptations, who didn’t know he’d written Shawshank or The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, say, were asked to describe a Stephen King novel, they most likely would describe something like the final two-thirds of this novel. What is more, as the investigation develops, the infodump overflows like third world landfill. This might make sense for our heroes, a group of detectives trying to convince themselves that supernatural forces exist, but it borders on the ludicrous that the forces of darkness would be quite so garrulously expository.
Originality: 2/6 After establishing and exploring the initial, intriguing premise, King revisits every trope from his own past horrors and those of his biggest influences. Stoker’s Dracula and Lovecraft’s oeuvre cast shadows over this book as much as they do King’s earliest novels.
Imagery: 6/6 King hasn’t lost his ability to describe real-world settings that intersect with the supernatural world. I suspect the early accounts of a town turning on itself will disturb more readers than the later, stranger things.
Characterization: 4/6 Characters are credible but lack much depth. Only Holly Gibney, who wanders in from King’s Bill Hodges Trilogy, really feels fleshed out. King has given us an autistic female Van Helsing, and she works.
Emotional Response: 4/6
Editing: 5/6 King’s prose remains strong in places, but I cannot shake the feeling that he cranked out this book rather than the better one that significant rewriting might have produced: a book living up to the initial premise.
Overall score: 5/6 We have one of King’s best premises, but not one of his best novels. Nevertheless, the inevitable movie or miniseries (or both) of The Outsider will make a fortune.
In total, The Outsider receives 30/42