The Outsider by Stephen King

A review

Stephen King said the premise for his story came from Edgar Allen Poe’s tale, ‘William Wilson’ which depicts a character in a British school who encounters another individual sharing his physical features and even date of birth. Poe’s ending is wrapped up in the metaphysical notion that Wilson’s doppleganger is really just an extension of himself, whereas King’s character takes on mythical proportions, gathering in legends such as that of ‘El cucos’, a shape-shifting demon that masquerades as an innocent party to commit heinous crimes.

King has moved very much into the realms of crime suspense with his last four novels and his range of lawyerly and police contacts have no doubt aided him in presenting authentic narratives from which to hang the more typical supernatural elements of his stories. As such, King has, in The Outsider, managed to tread the fine line between suspension of disbelief and gritty realism with his usual master’s touch. As usual, his turns of phrase and characterisation lend an absorbing touch that makes his novels draw you back to extended readings in your favourite armchair – albeit with the threat of a cold hand appearing on your shoulder! There was many a point when I was saying to myself ‘I’ll read just another chapter.’

It was nice to see the return of Holly Gibney (introduced in the Mr Mercedes/Finders Keepers/End of Watch trilogy.) Considering her original appearance was to be that of an incidental character (in King’s own words), she’s turned into one of his most enduring figures.

Some of the usual King tropes appear, such as the hapless lackey of the bad guy who we kinda feel sorry for because he’s coerced into being an accomplice. We have the likeable but ornery old grandma/grampa figure and also the patient and stoic wife. But King manages to extract original juice from these types which allow the reader to forgive his excesses.

The ending is suitably dramatic, authentic and satisfying. I was struck by a constant theme that appears in many of King’s books including IT, The Shining and Duma Key. Namely, that to confront the unthinkable horror, you first have to admit it exists. The gradual ‘conversion’ of the detective Ralph Anderson is deftly handled and moves the transition from a gripping detective story to one of spellbinding suspense.

Many will compare this book with King’s masterpieces such as The Stand, It and The Dark Tower series and find it wanting. I guess it’s impossible for any creative to perpetuate the equivalent of the Sistine Chapel or To Kill a Mocking bird (in fact Harper Lee didn’t really attempt it except semi-posthumously,) but here you have an SK tale written by a man still at the height of his powers after all these decades. No doubt a film will follow in due course.

You can purchase The Outsider here

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