The Outsider

Stephen King

Rating: 3.5 out of 10.

The Outsider is a book of two halves; the first excellent but the second part ineffective and boring.

It begins as a gripping crime thriller with a nuanced plot and good dialogue and descends into a strange, non-scary monster hunt with vague references to previous novels which are not immediately clear.

It seems that King himself did not know how it ended so just wrote another 200 pages of X-Files mundanity.

I genuinely loved the opening chapters of The Outsider. King weaves a compelling whodunnit mystery with mountains of evidence stacking up against the prime suspect, Terry Maitland.

The character is brilliantly written causing the reader to doubt their own convictions; is Terry Maitland innocent or a stone-cold sociopath playing his captors?

King is clearly inspired by murder mysteries of old including Harlan Coben who features as a plot device. In actual fact, the novel is littered with pop culture references of all eras from Game of Thrones to the Beatles.

However, it is at the introduction of the character Holly and the Finders Keepers agency where the novel unravels and the mystery ends. If you have not read the previous Finders Keepers / Mr Mercedes novels then it is hard to drum up any affection for for the new protagonist who all other characters fawn over. It also veers the story sharply away from crime and into some easy-get-out supernatural territory.

The plot holes are filled in with Holly’s beliefs and prior experience of the supernatural. At one point she retells a story of a mass-murderer who transferred consciousness except we the audience don’t hear the story. She invites the other characters to sit and listen, they take their seats and King jumps to and when Holly was finally finished telling the tale the sun was just coming up. Huh? I haven’t read Finders Keepers so I have no idea what she told the other characters in this missing section of exposition.

Regardless, it was superfluous of the story. The novel descends into a run-of-the-mill X-Files mystery which is very light on scares or tension of any kind and a Deus Ex Machina ending to a gunfight.

The final showdown is, being honest, a huge let-down.

The third act is partially redeemed by the vivid characterisation of Lovie who was a pleasure to read but that was a highlight in a sea of boredom.

The whole novel is capped with a strange obsession with the character of Holly who is consistently complimented for her foresight, detective skills, bravery and whatever else King would like to reward her for. At one point she instructs another character, skilled in shooting, what they should do to escape a sniper. You can almost hear the experienced policeman saying good idea Holly. Notwithstanding the novel spent the first 250 pages building that policeman up to be calm and calculating under pressure particularly in violent scenarios.

The last sentence of the protagonist made a mockery of the entire character.

It genuinely feels like King wrote a phenomenal first half, could not figure out how to save the suspect and just resigned himself to oh it was a monster all along. A solid 250 page thriller becomes a meandering 560+ page let-down with a weird fetish for the nervous, anxious, anal-retentive Holly.

You can pick it up cheaply on Amazon, but I wouldn’t recommend it.