Stephen King's 2018 novel presents an impossible mystery. A boy has been brutally murdered. The police have an irrefutable case against an unlikely suspect. The suspect has an irrefutable alibi. He must have done it. He couldn't have done it.

The Outsider's early chapters prove as page-turning as anything King has written. The premise might have developed into a Kafkaesque nightmare. It might have been given the conventional detective fiction treatment, with a solution that reconciles discrepancies. Instead, King veers into strangely comfortable horror territory. The novel revisits every trope from King's own past horrors and those of his greatest influences. If someone who only knew King's reputation for horror were asked to describe a Stephen King Novel, that person most likely would describe something like the final two-thirds of The Outsider.

This would at least make for a good, if predictable, horror read-- and to a point, it does. King hasn't lost his ability to describe often disturbing images. The early accounts of a town turning on itself prove particularly unsettling. Alas, as the investigation develops, the infodump overflows like third world landfill. I'll permit some of this tendency in our heroes, detectives trying to convince themselves that supernatural forces exist, but it borders on ludicrous that the forces of darkness would be quite so garrulously expository.

Characters are credible but lack much depth. Only Holly Gibney, who wanders in from King's Bill Hodges Trilogy, feels fleshed out. We have in her an autistic female Van Helsing, and she works.

King's prose remains strong in places, but I cannot shake the feeling that he started writing a stronger and more original work. We have one of the author's best premises, but not one of his best novels.

Notwithstanding, the inevitable movie adaptation and/or miniseries will make a fortune.

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