Stephen King’s The Outsider
Book Review by Annie Riordann
I own a library card and I know how to use it, bitches. I also seem to be the only horror fiction fan who frequents the North Providence Public Library because every time Stephen King releases a new book, the one single copy that the library receives is always readily available. And despite the fact that some people will hear the name “Stephen King” and wrinkle their nose, dismissing him as a hack, I steadfastly remain a fan. I grew up with King. I’ve loved a lot of his books, hated many others and been “meh” about most of the movies based on his works, but the man is not a hack. You want hack? Try some John Saul. ugh…
In 2014, King wrote a totally non-supernatural crime drama entitled Mr. Mercedes, which chronicled the efforts of world weary retired detective Bill Hodges to stop an utterly psycho but maniacally genius killer who preferred to target crowds rather than individuals. I had just recently become a huge fan of the TV show “Homicide Hunter” which follows the exploits of now-retired Colorado Springs detective lieutenant Joe Kenda.
As Mercedes was also set in Colorado, I immediately pictured Kenda in the role of Mercedes’ Bill Hodges. Mercedes was followed by two more books – Finders Keepers and End Of Watch – the latter of which at last ventured into supernatural territory. Sadly, the latter also saw the death of Hodges by cancer. Upon finishing that book, I spent several days calling King all manner of horrible names in my head – “sadistic pig-cock” remains my favorite – but ultimately forgave him when Sleeping Beauties, his joint effort with son Owen King was released.
I don’t remember where or from who I heard about The Outsider, but I found myself at the NPPL last week and decided to grab a copy. Because, of course, they had one and I didn’t want the regular staff to think I was dead or something. I purposely did not read the synopsis because I wanted to be surprised for a change. And I was, about halfway through the book, when suddenly…
Oh wait. I should probably torture you with a bone-dry synopsis first. Hey, I’m a reviewer, that’s what we do. I may even get pretentious and use some multi-syllable words while I’m at it, too.
Oklahoma. Where the winds come sweeping down the plains. Still, at least it isn’t Kansas. Anyway, a child has been murdered. In the fictional town of Flint City – not to be mistaken for Flint, Michigan, where the preferred method of killing kids remains contaminated drinking water – a popular English teacher and Little League coach has been arrested for the rape and murder of eleven year old Frank Peterson. Sodomized with a stick and partially eaten, little Frankie was last seen in the company of Coach Terry, an affable guy with a wife and two kids whom no one would ever have suspected. Except that Terry’s DNA is all over the kids dead body, and he was spotted by several strong witnesses who not only recognized Terry but conversed with him as well and took note of the fact that the coach was covered in blood. Coach Terry, much like the honey badger, doesn’t seem to give a shit about who sees him or in what condition. Until he’s arrested in front of 1200+ people at his next Little League game by an outraged police force, led by Detective Ralph Anderson.
But Terry insists he’s innocent, and he has just as many witnesses who can place him almost 100 miles away in a totally different city when Frankie was kidnapped and murdered. There’s even video evidence and fingerprints to prove he’s innocent. So what the fuck? How could Coach Terry have been in two places at once? As each side builds it case, the ripple effect continues to spread, tearing families apart and leaving more victims in its wake. And then, finally, at the critical halfway mark, in walks Private Investigator Holly Gibney, straight outta Colorado.
Holly, for those of you who may not be aware, is the neurotic, COD-riddled, no-nonsense little lady who emerged from her mother’s massive Munchausen shadow and became Bill Hodges partner in his post-retirement PI firm Finders Keepers, which is also the title of the sequel to Mr. Mercedes. If Lisbeth Salander was a mousy, virginal recluse with a nondescript wardrobe, she might bear an uncanny resemblance to Holly Gibney, the walking cinephile with mad research skillz. Holly dives into the case headfirst like a shark in a meat pool, and uncovers a similar case, a Mexican boogeyman and a potential new target. Convincing a bunch of just-the-facts-ma’am cops that their real perpetrator is a skin-shifting demon with a penchant for kids seems like a damn near impossible feat. But Ralph’s wife has already had an unsettling encounter with a shadowy creature in her very own kitchen. And Coach Terry’s daughter has been haunted by a sadistic, sorrow-eating ghoul with an unfinished Play-Doh face and straws for eyes.
As the first half of this book is laid out much like a police procedural, it’s honestly probably going to bore the shit out of some King fans, the ones used to horrible deaths and spooky houses and rabid dogs with Uzi’s chasing speeding buses driven by Keanu Reeves or what fucking ever. But I urge you to resist skipping ahead or you’ll miss a lot of gems tucked away in unassuming blocks of text: King’s nose thumb to Kubrick’s The Shining (nuff said indeed, Matt Modine), a couple of swipes at Trump, etc. Stick with it, because the spookiness will smack you in the face when you least expect it.
Based on the legend of El Cuco, the Outsider of the title seems to be a Mexican version of Krampus and also goes by the name Pumpkinhead, which made me wonder if the movie Pumpkinhead had any roots in El Cuco’s myth. Not much of a stretch, really. But that’s another article entirely.
The Outsider also duped me by making reference to an obscure Mexican film entitled Rosita Luchadora e Amigos Conocen El Cuco, which I wasted thirty minutes trying to find before realizing it didn’t exist. Goddammit. I FUCKING LOVE the El Santo/Blue Demon films and would totally have watched this one if it was real. Again, King can be such a sadistic pig cock.
But he’s also a talented writer, one who draws three dimensional characters who deal with the unrealistic and the seemingly unbelievable in believable, realistic ways. And I will fucking fight you if you call him a hack.