I’m finding this an oddly tough review to write. There were parts of THE OUTSIDER that I really, really enjoyed, and there were parts so unengaging I skim-read them.
And I hate it when I skim-read!
But what made that lack of attention on my part so particularly annoying, was that the book started out so well.
There’s been a brutal murder of a young boy and the police know who did it. A local football coach, a seemingly upstanding member of the community, has been seen by numerous witnesses. Furthermore, his fingerprints and DNA are both at the crime scene. It’s an open and shut case. Except that when they actually (and very publicly) arrest the man, he has a solid airtight alibi that places him a hundred miles away at the time of the crime.
So, the set up is excellent, and King does spend the first hundred and a fifty pages moving all the parts into place with an expertise few could match. Those hundred and fifty pages are tense and gripping and undeniably nail-biting.
The problem comes with the rest.
Now a straight thriller writer would spend the remainder of the book showing how the trick of a man being in two places at once (or someone framing him so it looked like he’d done the crime) was done.
With a less gory crime, it could even be an episode of COLOMBO.
But this is Stephen King, so obviously there’s going to be a supernatural element. That’s his M.O. and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Except, when the various characters come together to hunt The Outsider of the title, it feels like the most perfunctory monster hunt of the Twenty-First Century. Information falls into their laps in a way that’s lazy and contrived, and – even with most of the characters saying that they don’t believe in the supernatural (to the point where they bored this constant reader) – they still move without complaint from A to B to C tracking down the evil entity, all with few bumps in the road.
Do I wish that King hadn’t embraced the supernatural and tried to write a really gory episode of COLOMBO instead?
No, not at all. What I instead wish is that, rather than try to wed a plodding police procedural to a horror story, and ending up with a tale which just plods, that he’d written a braver and weirder novel.
A hundred and fifty pages in, there’s a big dramatic moment where the book turns on its head. However, that for me was where the narrative lost most of its interest. As THE OUTSIDER went on, King should have thrown in a few more of those moments – shaken the narrative up, made it unpredictable – so that instead of a slog, we had a book that intrigued and surprised rather than dully grinding to an obvious finish.
My new novel, EDEN ST. MICHEL is out this week! You can buy your copy here!