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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

Looking for a Book with Great Dialogue and Memorable Characters?: Check Out Deacon King Kong!

12 Aug

Deacon King Kong is set in Red Hook Brooklyn in 1969. It concerns a 71-year-old church deacon with two nicknames: King Kong (a local home brew which the deacon consumes in quantity) and Sportcoat (for his loud sartorial choices). One day, Sportcoat goes out to the plaza of the Cause Houses housing project, pulls out a gun, and in front of numerous bystanders shoots the project’s notorious young drug dealer at point-blank range.

What’s up with that? The residents in the area all have their own takes on why, and much of the book is given to the theories, the backstories, and the history of the community that lead up to the act that the book is centered on. The final chapters of the book bring it all into focus, but the lead up to that fateful shooting is the gist of the tale.

The residents of the area are keenly drawn personalities that get introduced after the shooting at a bewildering clip. You may find yourself wondering how you will keep them all straight. No worries – James McBride is a master at describing their characteristics and making them all feel like real people (so flawed and human). And they all have colorful nicknames that make them memorable.

The story is peopled with the residents of the housing project, the congregants of the Five Ends Baptist Church, neighboring rivals from the other neighborhood housing project, the drug dealers, the remaining Italian mobsters who never really left the neighborhood, and the police who patrol the area. McBride gives them voices that sound alive and real to the setting and era. Actually, the dialog is one of the main reasons I enjoyed the book.

As far as verisimilitude goes, although the setting is clearly evident for folks familiar with this part of Brooklyn, the street names used in the story sound like actual streets. Is Van Marl really a poorly disguised Van Brunt? None of the street names I googled checked out as actual streets in that part of Brooklyn. That didn’t bother me so much. However, a plot point concerning a lost item (no spoilers!) that certain characters are trying to locate, is a real item that as far as I can discern has no connection whatsoever to Brooklyn, and could not have been placed as it was in the story due to the history of that item.

Don’t let that stop you from enjoying this book. If you need other reasons to read this, I should tell you that it is also quite humorous. You may be interested in the book’s selection as an Oprah’s Book Club selection for 2020.

Our library has hard cover copies of the book. eLibraryNJ and eBCCLS both have copies of the ebook and audiobook. Reserve yours now – this book is going to be a hot item!

Written by:
Victoria Turk
Information and Digital Services Librarian

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