Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Book Review: "The Outsider" by Stephen King

Despite its name, Flint City has always been more like a small town, where everyone knows everyone's business. The town is rocked by the brutal violation and murder of 11-year-old Frank Peterson, and everyone wants justice to be served swiftly once the perpetrator is caught.

The police have the fingerprints and eyewitness testimony they need to make an arrest. Shockingly, everything points to Terry Maitland, an English teacher, husband and father, and beloved Little League coach, who was named Flint City's Man of the Year just a few years earlier. Driven by a zealous DA and a police detective whose son was once coached by Maitland, the police make a very public arrest of their suspect—within the last few swings of a decisive Little League game.

No one can believe "Coach T" is guilty of such an unspeakable crime, but once they hear of his arrest, everyone is quick to condemn a man who enjoyed coaching and teaching adolescents. Maitland not only insists he is innocent, but he provides significant evidence to bolster his alibi, enough to make the police wonder whether they made a mistake arresting him before fully investigating his whereabouts the night of the murder.

When DNA evidence backs up the police's suspicions, they aren't quite sure what to think. How could Maitland have been in two places at once? Was he simply setting up an alibi because his crime was premeditated, is someone trying to frame him, or is there something (or someone) else to worry about? After a succession of tragedies, the police need to figure out exactly what happened to Frank Peterson, and whether or not Terry Maitland was responsible, or they'll have to face serious repercussions.

In need of help, they turn to Holly Gibney (a character from King's Mr. Mercedes trilogy) for investigative assistance. But what she and the police begin to uncover is something far more troubling than they could ever imagine. Was Maitland the innocent man he said he was? Did he pull the wool over everyone's eyes, including those closest to him? Or is there more to fear?

Stephen King fires on all cylinders with The Outsider, using his immense talent for evocative imagery and multidimensional characters which creep you out. I wasn't sure what was going to happen in this book, although I had my suspicions, but King threw in lots of twists and turns here to keep me guessing. Nothing was quite like what it seemed, which made this story so compelling.

The one problem I've had with some of King's books in the past is I feel they lost steam as they wind their way toward a conclusion. That happened here as well—just as I expected everything to speed toward the conclusion, things seemed to peter out a little bit, and I felt like the ending was a bit of a disappointment, almost an afterthought given how well he set this book up.

I've been a big fan of King's work since the 1980s, and I don't believe that will change anytime soon. If you like his writing, you should enjoy The Outsider. His writing is once again pretty terrific, and he can tease out suspense and fright like no one else out there.

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