CONTENT WARNING: This review will deal with sensitive topics, including the physical and sexual assault of children, and the murder of children.
The Outsider is Stephen King’s newest book, following last year’s Sleeping Beauties. That’s not to say that it’s a direct sequel, but it is the last King book that I read. If you want to read my review of Sleeping Beauties, click here.
The Outsider centers around the rape and murder of Frank Peterson, an eleven-year-old boy from Flint City, Oklahoma. The main suspect is Terry Maitland, a teacher and little league coach. Ralph Anderson of the Flint City Police Department decides to arrest Maitland publicly. In the middle of a game, in front of most of the town. Despite Maitland’s shining reputation, most people in the town turn against him right away. Anderson made sure to arrest Maitland in the way that most effectively destroys any presumption of innocence, perhaps not in the eyes of the law, but in the eyes of the people that decide whether he’s trustworthy around their children.
Frank’s death is unfortunately not the only misfortune that the Peterson family is experiencing. In fact, members of the family die one by one in the following few days. Mrs. Peterson’s grief causes her to go into cardiac arrest. Frank’s older brother tries to take the law into his own hands, shooting Terry Maitland as he walks up the steps to the courthouse. That leads to him being shot by police. Mr. Peterson, being the last one alive, tries to hang himself. He’s cut down, surviving but remaining in a coma.
It now occurs to me that Mr. Peterson’s story doesn’t get quite resolved. It’s not really clear whether he eventually wakes up or if he ultimately passes away. It’s a detail that I think King might have overlooked.
Anyway, the evidence against Terry Maitland seems pretty solid. With one snag: he was a few hours away with three other teachers at the time of the murder. But he was still seen in Flint City. Somehow he was in two places at once. Whether or not Maitland is guilty, his case is closed with his death on the courthouse steps. And even though he never went to trial, the people of Flint City have decided that he is guilty.
This book is really well-paced. It’s a little faster than some of King’s work in the past. It’s about 500 pages, and I don’t feel like any of it is unnecessarily long. It feels like King and his editor put forth a lot of effort in trimming the fat and only keeping what’s important. I’ve really noticed that The Outsider just seems like an incredibly polished book to me. There’s little that feels unresolved or unnecessary. It’s appropriate for a story of this scale. It’s a single monster who kills one or two children before disappearing for a while. It’s not as large a scale as something like Sleeping Beauties, with a worldwide supernatural phenomenon affecting every woman on earth. I’d compare the scope more to It.
I’ve read a few Stephen King books in my day. This one is honestly the most scary one that I’ve read by far. Being framed for a crime I didn’t commit, especially something as serious as what Maitland is framed for, is a long-standing fear of mine. It’s’ not something that keeps me up at night, but stories with people that get framed for crimes are just some of the scariest to me. So, good on you, Mr. King, for touching on my fears in a clever, entertaining way.
The Outsider rolls together the scariest situation and the worst type of person. And I think that King has outdone himself as far as terrifying and heinous villains. I’ve left out all of the interaction with the villain itself, since I don’t want to spoil this story for the reader.
Now, I don’t want to suggest that The Outsider is perfect. It’s well done, but there were flaws that jumped out at me. The biggest factor that got on my nerves was the character of Yune Sablo. Yune Sablo is an officer in the Flint City police department, and as he will not let us forget, he is the son of a Mexican farmer. Like, I’m all for more Hispanic/Latin@ representation in books. But I’m not so much of a fan of characters that represent tired stereotypes. Sablo is more of the latter in my eyes. In the desert, he points out that the weather is muy caliente. At the diner, he makes sure to get juevos rancheros. Yune Sablo is written with a really ill-fitting level of stereotyping, to be honest. For such a generally polished book, it seems incredibly out of place. It’s a shame, because I do like this book so much and it’s frustrating to see King relying on stereotypes in this way. I understand that The Outsider is based on parts of Mexican folklore, but Yune just seems to be there as a token Mexican to have someone familiar with the story. And he isn’t even really that, since Holly, a character that appears later in the book and is an absolute delight, knows about it and acts as something of a folklore guide. So, I sort of wonder if Sablo was really necessary for the plot beyond a token.
Despite its flaws,I enjoyed The Outsider. It plays into some tropes, and leaves a couple of ends untied, but its positives outweigh its shortcomings. If you’re a fan of Stephen King, then this would be a good pick for you.