As all Stephen King fans know (succinctly stated by Robin Furth, author of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower: The Complete Concordance), “Ka is a wheel; its one purpose is to turn.” And so it goes for perhaps America’s most prolific writer, who keeps turning the wheel of the universe he’s created with every new release that bears his name, be it the upcoming sequel to last summer’s box-office monster hit, It, or the recent Hulu series (Castle Rock) that has allowed new stories to emerge from the details of King’s older novels.
The man is tireless when it comes to churning out books, and he shows no signs of slowing down, especially with his latest magnum opus that recalls some of his most famous moments. Whether you’re a fan of his older, more horrific fare, or fell in love with his newer Bill Hodges trilogy (Mr. Mercedes, Finders Keepers, and End of Watch, a series which becomes all the more relevant here), The Outsider has something that fits all tastes.
While seeming to start out as yet another entry in his recent line of police procedurals, it quickly evolves into a tale more reminiscent of King’s supernatural classics from the 1980s. With a page count just shy of 600, it’s also one of the longer stories he’s published in recent memory, though he makes the extra words count.
As seen in many of his works, King has a fascination with terror in a small community, and Flint City, Oklahoma feels just as familiar as his usual old haunts of a typical New England backdrop. People seem to really be close to each other and co-exist in a way that almost makes Flint City quaint, especially within the novel’s opening at a local little league game, where the kids play respectfully on the field and the adults coaching them are held in the highest regard as community leaders. That’s at least how we are to look at head coach Terry Maitland before the cops pull up to publically arrest him for the brutal murder of a young boy (whom everyone knows, obviously). It’s a stunt orchestrated by Detective Ralph Anderson, meant to send a message to anyone who would dare commit such a heinous crime, and probably would’ve been more effective… if only they’d arrested the actual killer.
A rock-solid alibi derails Anderson’s case, but the damage of the spectacle he orchestrated is already done; by the time mob-justice hands down its own verdict, Anderson is left with blood on his hands and a boy whose death still needs to be avenged. Driven, the detective follows a trail of leads that take a turn toward the supernatural, and thanks to an unlikely assist from Maitland’s defense attorney Howie Gold and his associate Alec Pelley, Anderson connects with a dedicated private investigator that faithful King readers will be happy to see from the Bill Hodges trilogy (no spoilers).
All of the clues take them into Marysville, Texas, where they run into local officer Yune Sablo. Together, they seek to visit the Marysville Hole and confront El Cuco, a legendary shape-shifting demon that might be more real than the Mexican folklore from which its name suggests.
Without giving away all of the great twists, King develops a story that works for every fan, both new and old alike. Is it required to have read King’s previous novels to enjoy The Outsider? No, but fans probably already have, especially the connected Mercedes Killer trilogy. Fans should be able to spot the elements repeated from his previous novels, including the big bad evil creature, its unwitting human accomplice and final showdown where not everyone makes it out alive. By now this is familiar territory, but King replays these well-worn beats so masterfully you won’t mind revisiting them again.