The After Word: The Outsider (SPOILERS)

Hello all you poor mooks wrongfully accused of HEINOUS crime! It’s been a while. Sorry about that but real life has this nasty habit of taking over and forcing your attention elsewhere. But then Stephen King released a new book and I dropped everything to read it. Then real life told me to shut up and stop wasting time. It’s been a roller coaster lately. Point is, I read Stephen King’s new book and now I’m gonna talk about it atchoo! Deal? As always, spoilers ahead.

The book is one of dual identities. The first half is a police procedural and a classic locked-room mystery. Beloved small town little league coach Terry Maitland is accused of the brutal murder of a small boy. The case seems open and shut. There are witnesses tracking his every move throughout the day, they find his fingerprints all over the scene, and, worst of all, his semen is at the scene suggesting the crime was sexual. Middle aged Detective Ralph Anderson is convinced by the DA to move quickly and arrest Terry without delay. Worse, Anderson’s son was coached by Terry and, in the heat of the moment and out of anger at the brutality of the crime, Anderson arrests Terry in an incredibly public way.

The only problem, Terry has an airtight alibi. There are multiple witnesses confirming he was out of town on the day of the murder and confirming his location at the time of the murder. Worse for Anderson’s case, there is video evidence of Terry at a book signing at the time of the boy’s abduction.

As Terry fights the charges and Anderson begins to grow more and more sure that he made a huge mistake arresting Terry, the victim’s family is torn apart by a series of further tragedies. Terry’s family is being terrorized by reporters and his youngest daughter starts having nightmares about a man with straws for eyes. A shadow of paranoia and anger settles over the town until it all comes to a head at Terry’s trial where he is shot and killed. He goes to his grave swearing his innocence.

After Terry’s death, Anderson is put on administrative leave but he just can’t let the case go. He begins to dig deeper and unravel Terry’s movements in the months leading up to the murder. He enlists the help of Holly Gibey (a character from the Mr. Mercedes series and a crossover that I did NOT see coming) and finds out that something entirely more sinister might be going on. At this point the novel switches to full on horror mode, complete with the very Stephen King touch of the central mystery being unraveled by an obscure Mexican action movie about female luchadores. I love everything about this.

Turns out our murderer is actually a shape shifting monster who feeds on fear and pain and misery and who has the handy-dandy power of giving people cancer by touching them. He’s equal parts Randall Flagg and Pennywise. It’s up to Holly, Anderson, and a group of their allies to track the monster down and kill it.

Whether you like the book or not really depends on how much you like King’s particular storytelling quirks. Like much of King’s work the final confrontation is somewhat underwhelming because to King the hard part is always finding the courage to stand up to evil. In King’s world, as long as the good people are willing to stand against the monster, they’re far more powerful than it could ever be.

The book is also very much a product of the Trump age. While overt references to Trump are limited to a few graffiti tags about making America great again and some swastikas, you can definitely tell the book is a response to the darker aspects of Trump’s fanbase. Mob mentality, anger, and toxic masculinity are just as much of a villain as the central monster is and, in fact, some of the tools it uses to its advantage. The themes are there if you’re looking for them, but if you want to ignore them the book also works as a fun monster story; and the first half is actually a pretty riveting police procedural.

Overall the book is pretty good. Not one of King’s best works but certainly not one of his worst. Ever since he started focusing more on mystery books than overt horror I feel like King has really found his stride again. Seems he’s really enjoying what he’s doing and it shows in his prose which, as always, is so deft as to make writing seem like the easiest thing in the world. If you’re a fan of King, the book should be at the top of your to-do list.

Once again, sorry for the lack of content lately boys and girls, but real life is a cruel mistress. We have quite a few things brewing though, including the return of a series that brings us no small measure of pain. So look forward to our misery! And until then, stay spooky.

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