If it seems like I’ve been talking about Stephen King a lot lately, you’re right. King has experienced a significant renaissance over the last few years, not only cranking out quite a lot of fresh new stories but seeing his work both old and new getting treatments for the large and small screen.
The Book Hub recently tallied up all the King tales about to be part of your entertainment lineup.
- It: Part 2
- Pet Sematary
- Hearts in Atlantis
- My Pretty Pony
- Doctor Sleep
- Drunken Fireworks (based on the short story from The Bazaar of Bad Dreams)
- The Talisman
- The Stand
- The Dark Tower IV: Wizard and Glass
- Castle Rock
- Sleeping Beauties
- 8 (based on “N” from Just After Sunset)
Of his newest works you already know I am partial to The Shining sequel, Doctor Sleep, for which Ewan McGregor was recently signed to play the adult Danny Torrance in the movie treatment. But I have also thoroughly enjoyed what has been labeled The Bill Hodges Trilogy, which includes Mr. Mercedes, Finders Keepers and End of Watch. These are all detective fiction, though not without King’s special perspective on evil, up to and including a bit of the supernatural, and though each is a standalone story, they revolve around the same central characters.
The trilogy is in the process of being done quite a lot of justice as the flagship series for the fledgling AT&T Network under the title Mr. Mercedes. Season 1 was truly outstanding and covers the first book. Season 2 is already being hyped under the same title, but will cover the Finders Keepers storyline.
Which bring me to King’s latest novel, The Outsider. I just turned the last page on Tuesday and I am pleased to report it is every bit as riveting as The Bill Hodges Trilogy and again part of King’s growing universe of detective stories. Here’s the summary from his publisher, Simon and Schuster:
An unspeakable crime. A confounding investigation.
An eleven-year-old boy’s violated corpse is found in a town park. Eyewitnesses and fingerprints point unmistakably to one of Flint City’s most popular citizens. He is Terry Maitland, Little League coach, English teacher, husband, and father of two girls. Detective Ralph Anderson, whose son Maitland once coached, orders a quick and very public arrest. Maitland has an alibi, but Anderson and the district attorney soon add DNA evidence to go with the fingerprints and witnesses. Their case seems ironclad.
As the investigation expands and horrifying answers begin to emerge, King’s propulsive story kicks into high gear, generating strong tension and almost unbearable suspense. Terry Maitland seems like a nice guy, but is he wearing another face? When the answer comes, it will shock you as only Stephen King can.
Unlike his previous detective stories, this one has a no-holds-barred supernatural element which does require the reader to go with King and willingly suspend disbelief. It’s not that the “supernaturalness” is overdone, but we are way beyond ghosts and evil spirits and off into Doctor Sleep territory.
On the plus side you have characters so three-dimensional they could be your own friends and neighbors. Here, King is at his master-storytelling best, weaving an environment which could be any small-town USA populated by very human beings with all their subsequent good and bad traits. King had me glued to the pages knowing full well this very Americana picture he was painting was about to be torn to bloody shreds by something just the opposite of human.
On the down side, I am reminded of a Saturday Night Live skit showing King giving an interview while simultaneously banging away on his keyboard cranking out stories. King has a bit of a repetitive formula that made it possible for me to 100% accurately predict in the first chapter, which of the characters would be dead by the end. It also makes the second half of the book rather anticlimactic compared to the frantic pace of the earlier chapters. Once the setup and background information are laid out, what comes next seems to always bear a vague resemblance to King’s other stories.
The Outsider can be said to also exist to a certain extent, in the Mr. Mercedes universe as the three main characters from there, end up here in forms ranging from references to intricate cast members. Some of the reviews of The Outsider did not appreciate this crossover and identified it as the main reason this story didn’t hold up.
Did any of it put me off?
When you wade into a Stephen King story, you do so knowing what you’re getting; a solid, well-developed and entertaining tale with some serious scares and gross-outs. If you’re looking for wild innovation and ground-breaking storytelling, go elsewhere. As for the tie-in to Mr. Mercedes, if you’ve read that trilogy you, like me, may have come to have serious interest in and affection for those key characters, and seeing more of them in The Outsider was like seeing a friend show up in a room full of strangers. I didn’t mind it one bit.
All in, I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed The Outsider. And no, you don’t need to have read the other books to enjoy it. All of King’s detective stories stand on their own with only an added dimension you’ll appreciate if you read them all.
No time for the book or the audio version? Please stand by. I’m sure a screen adaptation is eminent.
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