The Outsider, by Stephen King

Nine stars

Stephen King has done it again with a powerful story that pulls the reader into the middle and will not let them go. Mixing his ability to write mysteries with a long-established foundation for the supernatural, this novel will impress the dedicated reader ready for an adventure like no other. When a boy’s body is discovered, murdered and sexually assaulted, many of the witnesses and evidence point to Terry Maitland. The town’s baseball coach, Maitland was described by many to be the salt of the earth, though Detective Ralph Anderson cannot discount all the information that he has at his disposal. Wanting to make a show of Maitland’s arrest, Anderson seeks to have Maitland taken into custody during a high-profile baseball game, in front of much of the town. While Maitland professes his innocence, Anderson turns a deaf ear, sure that the forensics are irrefutable. A solid alibi exists for Maitland being a fair distance away, with equally persuasive alibi witnesses and physical evidence, though Anderson chooses not to give this much merit. How can a man be in two places at once and does DNA lie? Anderson and others around him seek to explain this, but things go horribly wrong during the arraignment and Maitland’s innocence is now a footnote to a larger issue. When the evidence is extrapolated by a guilty Anderson, who cannot rest until he knows the truth, all eyes turn to Dayton, Ohio, where Maitland spent some of his time with family. A call is placed to the Finders Keepers Detective Agency, where one Holly Gibney is now running the show. Gibney, eccentric as ever, is curious and agrees to take the case, poking around and asking the right questions. She soon discovers that there is more to Terry Maitland than meets the eye and the case is blown wide open. What follows is a series of events that turns the small town of Flint City into the centre of a larger and more disturbing mystery, with ties to a piece of Mexican folklore. Is there a way to be in two places at once? Who is the mysterious man that appears in the dreams of many around town, making threats of violence? King offers up answers to these and many others in his latest piece of stunning fiction. Those who can stomach Stephen King will surely love this book, though his trademark meandering might turn the less than prepared off reading this stellar novel!

I will be the first to admit that it takes a certain kind of reader to enjoy Stephen King. His masterful ability to tell a story is surrounded by layers of tangential writing and minor characters seeking their time in the spotlight. However, if one can handle this sort of storytelling, there is a core tale that is almost addictive and one cannot walk away without being impacted. King does a masterful job here, focussing his attention on many people throughout the piece. Terry Maitland receives strong character development throughout the early portion of the novel, his life dragged through the mud as the accusations against him pile high. He seeks to clear his name, though the evidence appears to make this close to impossible. Ralph Anderson and Holly Gibney, though not the only others who share a significant amount of the spotlight, are two that will not soon be forgotten by readers. Anderson is the police official seeking justice over all else and not wanting to let his gaffes hang too long around him. Those who have read some of King’s recent material will know Gibney to be a central character in his Mr. Mercedes trilogy, where her unique style seems to have made its mark. Gibney divorces herself from the socially acceptable world and tells things as she sees them, no matter the consequences. Scores of other characters dot the narrative and push it forward, keeping the reader enthralled and wanting more, their characteristics sometimes a flash in the pan, but always appreciated. The story itself is complex and entertaining, full of King’s strong research and curious tangential commentary on life. What appears to be the thread the narrative will follow is soon abandoned for a different pathway, but one the reader can enjoy without too many mental gymnastics. I understand how many may not have liked this piece or found it too… odd for their liking. I know all too well that King can be difficult to digest and it takes a certain type of reader to understand him. That being said, I cannot praise this recent piece enough and await the next novel to see what else he has in store.

Kudos, Mr. King, for another winner. While I have been critical of some work you produce, you always keep me guessing and wondering what you have in mind when I crack open another of your pieces of writing.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

The Outsider, by Anthony Franze

Nine stars

Yet another powerful legal thriller by Anthony Franze that left me rushing to review it. This novel pulls readers into a story that centres around the U.S. Supreme Court in all its glory. After graduating from a fourth-tier law school and saddled with enormous debts, Grayson ‘Gray’ Hernandez was lucky enough to secure a job as a Messenger within the U.S. Supreme Court. While he has always aspired to argue before the nine Justices, he finds pleasure in being able to surround himself with the history and regal (as well as legal) nature of the marbled halls. When he stumbles upon an assault in the Court’s underground parkade, Gray does all he can to help the victim, who ends up being the Chief Justice Edgar R. Douglas. As a thank you for the heroics, Chief Justice Douglas offers Gray a coveted spot on his staff, as a fifth law clerk. Forced to acclimate to the quick pace of the Court, Gray is shunned by his co-clerks, but soon proves his worth through hard work and dedication to the Court’s business. Meanwhile, the FBI is investigating the attack at the Court and a handful of homicides that might be related. Further digging leaves Special Agent Emma Milstein wondering if the perpetrator might come from within the Court, based on random items left around the crime scenes. Milstein approaches Gray to help with their investigation, hoping to crack the case wide open, tapping into his experience working within the hallowed halls. Gray accepts, adding this to the laundry list of things he must accomplish, most notably learning the ropes of his clerkship while not alienating his family and friends. Remembering his roots, Gray tries to live in both worlds and appease everyone. With a serial killer on the loose with a penchant for the Court, Gray is fingered as being a potential culprit, forcing him into hiding. However, Milstein stands by his innocence and scrambles to uncover the vast conspiracy, which might cost someone a reputation, or even a life. Rich with history and a quick-paced narrative, Franze has successfully offered the reader another winner. Perfect for crime fans who enjoy a little history peppered throughout, this is one not to put too far down the ‘To Be Read’ list!

Franze has the ability to breathe new life in the Court and all that it represents. The reader is not only treated to a wonderful setting on First Street Northeast, but much of its history comes to life as the characters develop throughout the novel. Key cases adjudicated before the Court find themselves mentioned and the reader cannot help but learn from the background provided. Pulling on a number of different personalities, Franze develops strong characters who clash at key moments, only adding to the dramatic effect of the overall reading experience. While the premise, murder, is by no means unique, Franze layers it and keeps the excitement building until the very end, pushing his protagonist to the limits to profess his own innocence. Some have drawn strong parallels between Franze and other authors in the genre, to which I firmly believe there is much merit. Captivating and full of nuances that the non-attentive reader will miss, Franze is sure to be one author many readers will discover and love, given the chance.

Kudos, Mr. Franze for another wonderful Supreme Court thriller. You pull out all the stops and leave the reader with a fabulous story in which they easily become enthralled.