[REVIEW] Stephen King's newest, THE OUTSIDER, A Lurid Crime And Supernatural Affair

Stephen King’s The Outsider (Scribner; May 22) begins as a fine-tuned police procedural so riveting, it practically turns its own pages. Building suspense early and sustaining it easily, King springs a plot development in the second act that threatens to bring all that sweet momentum to a screeching halt. The reader is left wondering where the story can possibly go. But it’s a testament to King’s prodigious talent that this bold narrative move only leaves you salivating for more. And with The Outsider, King really delivers.

The town of Flint City, Oklahoma, is emotionally devastated when a local boy is found object-sodomized and gruesomely murdered, but police detective Ralph Anderson is confident that he’s got his man. Witnesses and an abundance of forensic evidence (including fingerprints and DNA) link Little League coach Terry Waitland to the entire vile endeavor. Knowing Coach Terry is beloved by the community and wanting to utilize the element of surprise, Detective Anderson stages a very sudden, very public arrest in the middle of a baseball game. When it turns out that Coach Terry has an absolutely unbreakable alibi, Anderson starts to question his own instincts: How can one man be in two places at the same time?  Meanwhile, the townsfolk are understandably clamoring for justice: You’ve got your man, what’s the hold up?

And then King pulls the rug out.

It would be malfeasant to divulge any more of The Outsider’s addictive plotting; suffice it to say, it’s King’s most compulsively readable book since 11/22/63.  It’s no secret that King’s an enormous fan of good crime writers—he’s got pull-quotes plastered all over the front covers of contemporary greats like Lehane and Winslow—and he’s obviously having a blast here. Once he’s sucked you in with a lurid crime and some truly absorbing forensic details, King paints Detective Anderson into a narrative corner that leaves both the protagonist and reader stumped. Where do we go from here?  But then the detective reluctantly starts to paraphrase Arthur Conan Doyle—‘once you eliminate the natural, whatever remains must be supernatural’—and you can sense King fans everywhere dry-washing their hands in anticipation. Sometimes you just take Uncle Steve’s hand and let him lead you into the dark.