The Outsider by Stephen King

The Outsider by Stephen King on the Kindle

Edition Published: 2018, First Published: 2018

Language book read in: English

Vel’s Perspective

Stephen Kings is an extremely prolific writer, with nearly 60 novels published to date, and I doubt there are many places in the world where people haven’t heard of him or his stories. The settings for his novels vary widely from science fiction, to today, to a post-apocalyptic future. Overall, his writing explores how people, usually your regular Joe and Jane, respond to the fear of the unknown, of the different and the otherworldly, and frequently include horror and crime themes. In this way, he continues a long line of authors who intertwine the mundane with the bizarre, usually in a masterful way. I say usually, because some of his stories are better than others, which is not really that surprising considering the sheer volume of his works.

My thoughts on him and his novels are conflicting – he is simultaneously the most approachable, famous and read fiction and horror writer, who still plays a very active part in the literary world – for which I hold him in high regard, and yet he is the one author whose books I see most frequently in charity shops here in England. Having read a few of his novels, I have to admit I quite enjoy picking up a book of his, yet rarely do I want to keep it or reread it – as most of his stories are in the style of ‘who-done-it’ and crime investigations, once you’re in on the secret it is the writing of the novel which needs to persuade you to go back to it again and again. And for me, this isn’t always the case. Perhaps it is unfair of me to say so, but I think of many of his works like modern day penny dreadfuls.

This is the way I feel towards The Outsider as well. It was an enjoyable novel, easy to read and engaging, yet completely predictable. I wouldn’t go as far as to call it a cliche, because it wasn’t, but the plot flowed in a recognisable fashion, one I’ve seen on crime films and read in other horror books. Perhaps I ended up quite liking it because of its familiarity, like you would an old family member – you know what they are going to say, but they are still quite charming. I read the novel on a holiday, so it fit in with the time frame and mood quite well, as I hate undertaking a heavy read when I’m meant to be relaxing.

The characters can easily be put into their respective stereotype boxes, though I found them more likable and relatable than in other similar novels. It was these characters which made the story for me; there were strong men, but also strong women, perfectly normal and socially awkward ones, all spanning the whole way on the role model – irritating – pathetic spectrum. If there was anything with a breath of freshness in the novel, this was Holly, not because her kind of character hasn’t been attempted before, but because King has done remarkably well in portraying a socially awkward female, without her feeling over the top or being punished for her difficulty to blend in with society.

The setting is modern, which gave King the opportunity to include multiple references to supernatural crime novels, films and series of the distant and near past, but also to make tongue in cheek comments about Trump supporters, the funding cuts of police departments and efficacy of the American law system. Some of these made me chuckle, whilst others drew the comparison between The Outsider and, say, Dracula, too closely, which nearly backfired for me as I ended up wanting to read one of these mentioned books, rather than the one I had in front of me.

Overall, The Outsider felt like a rewrite of a classic supernatural crime novel with the alien swapped for… well. Read it and find out.

Rain droplets

Nel’s Perspective

Despite The Outsider being a little over 550 pages, I think it was the quickest read I’ve made since the start of this year. The book was one of my choices from last year’s Goodreads choice award nominees, because I’ve loved Stephen King from an young age and the premise of the story seemed very intriguing. Also, I hadn’t read any mysteries for a while and the crime-mystery genre is one of my all time favourites. Nothing like a good murder mystery to brighten up my day.

Plot

The Outsider by Stephen King tells the story of a gruesome murder and a suspect who apparently was present in two different locations at the same time. This instantly piqued my interest. How can anyone be in two different places at the same time? The details of the crime are bloody enough and you feel caught in a whirlwind of arrests, interrogations and substantial evidence to prove the guilt of the main suspect – coach Terry Maitland. However, things are not as clear-cut as they may initially seem. The ability to trust your instincts and open your mind are the qualities which eventually shine a light at the end of the tunnel and bring forth the answer to the riddle. As Vel stated, the answer is found in the supernatural.

Thoughts

After Circe, The Outsider seemed really fast-paced. The problem is the narrative is long and a bit more suited to be a Hollywood blockbuster screenplay, rather than a crime and mystery novel. I remember thinking the exact same thing when I read last year’s Sleeping Beauties. Only this time, there were less characters to remember. They are definitely believable, although they sometimes fall too much into one category or another.

It is true that sometimes people become so involved with their thoughts that feelings of rage, jealousy, or self-loathing can encompass you and the emotion eventually becomes your main driving force. This is what happened with John Hoskins, a detective on the Flint City police force, who was also charged with investigating the murder of the 11-year old Frank Peterson. What I didn’t like was that he was a means to an end, rather than someone whose character developed over the course of time.

On the other hand, Flint City Detective Ralph Anderson’s character progressed from non-believer to someone who appreciates there may be more to life than straight facts. But this too felt like only serving the purpose to solve the riddle.

The only character who I loved was Holly Gibney. And I think it’s no wonder she will be getting another book. Holly has her flaws and bad habits, but she’s trying to live her life one day at a time, especially after the death of her mentor. She managed to defeat some of her bad habits, such as chewing her nails, but she still has to battle with her anxiety every time she gets complimented or has to explain a far-fetched idea to people who are not necessarily willing to hear her findings.

I think that this is because he character was developed well in advance in the Bill Hodges series. Sadly, I am more familiar with King’s older novels and I haven’t yet had the chance to read his newer ones apart from two or three books.

There was one more thing that really bothered me and that is the solution. Maybe it was due to my own expectations again, but I would’ve loved the solution to be simple and natural. The setting in the beginning of the book was very promising and it would have been fun to have a Christie-styled answer to the riddle.

Conclusion

Although the graphic details might not be to everybody’s taste, The Outsider is a fast-paced mystery story with a dash of the supernatural. It certainly is a fun read and it takes your mind off of things during the holidays. So, it’s 3.5/5 for me.

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