I’m starting us off with Stephen King’s newest novel, The Outsider. Technically, this was one of my June reads, but I loved it, so it gets this place of honor. I don’t think I put it down if I didn’t absolutely have to.
Now, if you happen to look at my July Reads post, you’ll notice that I read three of King’s other novels back to back. They’re King’s “Bill Hodges Trilogy” and fans have been calling The Outsider the fourth Bill Hodges book. It’s not necessary to read them to understand The Outsider, but there are a lot of references to past events that might be lost on new readers. Another note before I go on: In true King fashion, there are graphic descriptions of several crime scenes (but not the actual events, in this case) and plenty of gore. If you’re terribly squeamish or adverse to violence/rape, this is a book to skip over.
Right off the bat, The Outsiders is suspenseful, fast-paced, and surprisingly funny. It follows the story of Detective Ralph Anderson as he investigates a crime that is paradoxical: DNA and witnesses point to local Little League coach Terry Maitland as the perpetrator, but at the time of the murder, Terry was out of town with coworkers at a conference. Even after the case is considered closed, Detective Anderson continues to unravel a truth that seems to transcend reality. For the majority of the book, I was on the edge of my seat. There certainly was some easy-peasy foreshadowing , but the fun of the book was in the dramatic irony rather than the whodunnit.
One of the most prominent themes throughout the book is grief and the effect it has on families. As the Outsider is a being that thrives on grief and anger, Arlene Peterson, Marcy Maitland, and Jeannie Anderson are mothers and wives put in stressful situations, but the variety of their reactions set them up as foils of each other.
Mrs. Peterson, mother of the original victim, actually dies from the grief. It wasn’t necessarily a voluntary action, but it subsequently destroys leads to the deaths of the rest of her family. Marcy Maitland didn’t lose her children, but the accusation and loss of her husband means that she’s worried for them and how it will affect them moving forward. Multiple times, she wonders how best to take care of her family when their experiences can’t be avoided or washed away simply by moving to a new place. Jeannie Anderson isn’t dealing with grief per se, but as she becomes involved in her husband’s investigation, she must find the balance of being a supportive wife and being the protector of her family.