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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

Quirky Characters, a Charming Setting and Topical Issues: Louise Penny’s A Better Man

4 May

A Better Man
Take a small rural Canadian village. A bistro serving almond croissants and café au lait. A quirky cast of core characters, with a few new faces mixed in each new book of the series.

Mix in some current topical issues, in this case the effects of environmental change, social media reality and the how impressions can be shaped there by anonymity, doctored videos and the viral nature of opinions. Add other dark aspects of life, like violence against women.

What you get is a somewhat cozy mystery with enough rough reality mixed in that you won’t gag from the sweetness.

It’s a formula that is repeated throughout this now 15 book long series. Armand Gamache, an officer of the Surete du Quebec lives with his extended family in the (fictional) village of Three Pines in Quebec. He deals with various crimes (a rather shocking amount, for such a backwater) as well as issues within the Surete du Quebec. He carries the baggage of decisions he has made in his career in each new book. In this one, he is looking into the disappearance of a woman known to have been abused by her husband. He is helped by his son-in-law Jean-Guy Beauvoir, and other Surete agents that have appeared in previous books in the series.

I hesitate to make the suggestion, because it is a rather substantial reading commitment, but it really is best to read the series in order. There is enough explanation of the backstories of the major plot developments to get you through each book as a stand-alone, but your enjoyment will be deeper for seeing characters develop over time. Penny doesn’t pull any punches. She is not afraid to write main characters out of the script or involve plot twists that will shock you.

A list of the series in order from the first to the most recent is: Still Life, A Fatal Grace/Dead Cold (same book, different title), The Cruelest Month, A Rule Against Murder/The Murder Stone (same book, different title), The Brutal Telling, Bury Your Dead, A Trick of the Light, The Beautiful Mystery, How the Light Gets In, The Long Way Home, The Nature of the Beast, A Great Reckoning, Glass Houses, Kingdom of the Blind, and A Better Man.  You can find them as ebooks and/or digital audiobooks to checkout from eLibraryNJ, eBCCLS, and Hoopla.

If you require s bit more convincing, take a look at Louise Penny’s web site, which features reviews and more describing the books in detail.

What I enjoy about the series is the morality of Armand Gamache and the plotting that keeps each book both familiar and surprising. And the food! The characters frequently indulge in food and drink at the bistro or at get-togethers at the villagers’ homes that sound awesome.

Written by:
Victoria Turk
Reference Librarian

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