Not Just a Classic Murder Mystery: The Outsider

26 Aug

The Outsider, by Stephen King, opens up as a classic murder mystery. Except the stakes are so much higher. The victim is an 11-year-old boy, Frank Peterson, who has been raped, killed and partially cannibalized. Based on eyewitness testimony, all signs point to his straight-as-an-arrow Little League coach, Terry Maitland, as the killer.

Maitland denies his involvement, attorneys up, and puts forth his verifiable alibi, also involving some rock-solid witnesses. Well, a person can’t be in two places at the same time, can they?

Detective Ralph Anderson has doubts about Maitland, since he knows him personally. Maitland coached Anderson’s son, and previous to this accusal has proved to be an upstanding and honorable member of the community.

The reader doesn’t know what to believe, this being a Stephen King novel where supernatural occurrences are a bit of a given. There are inconsistencies in the eyewitness testimony that are problematic, but not deal killers.

Trouble ensues. (no spoilers!) Further “double” homicides occur that may have a connection to the Frank Peterson incident. The authorities begin looking beyond their own backyard, so to speak.

The supernatural element gets more pronounced. A young woman, Holly Gibney, becomes involved in the investigation. Holly, a character in King’s Bill Hodges trilogy (Mr. Mercedes, Finder’s Keepers, and End of Watch) takes over the second half of the book as she tries to unravel what happened.

As with all the Stephen King books I’ve read, King manages to engage the reader. Maybe you’ve dismissed Stephen King by labelling him as a genre writer, maybe too “pop culture” for your tastes. It’s true King likes to add elements of popular culture that will resonate with readers – Little League, Pop Warner football, Jitterbug phones, and more. He almost uses those as a kind of shorthand to say he’s hip to American life. Part of the appeal of King is that he does resonate. And he does make you turn the pages at a clip.

I admit some of the supernatural elements in this particular book are a bit much. The considerable appeal of Stephen King is that he can make you suspend your natural aversion to the inexplicable and construct a fictional world that is believable within the confines of its own universe.

If you are ready to escape into a fictional world that can take your mind to a scary place that you know ultimately is not real, I recommend you give Stephen King a try. You can read another post about King’s work, The Gunslinger, here.

Written by:
Victoria Turk
Information and Digital Services Librarian

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