stephen-king-the-outsider

Is Your Hometown Safe From The Outsider?

Flint City seems the safest place you’d know. It is small enough so that everyone knows everyone else. Sadly, this dream-like image of the town is soon shattered by an unimaginably horrific crime – the mutilated corpse of an 11-year old boy is found in a park in Flint City.

Several eyewitnesses and fingerprints point to a rather unlikely suspect – Flint City’s baseball coach, Terry Maitland. Maitland is a well-loved family man, husband, and father of two girls, a popular local figure with an unblemished past who has trained most of the local children.

When he is publicly arrested during a Little League game and charged with the rape, mutilation, and murder of the 11-year old boy, the whole town is appalled. Maitland’s wife and girls, never conceiving that their husband and father is a criminal, are confronted with a devastating front of rejection from the hitherto cordial members of the small-scale community. Maitland’s daughters and his wife are tormented both by locals and by press reporters.

Pretty soon, the whole town boils with rage against Maitland. One of his few allies is his lawyer, Howie Gold.

Can Someone be in Two Places at the Same Time?

Detective Ralph Anderson, a seasoned cop who has still preserved his kindheartedness, conducts the investigation related to this murder and the evidence seems to confound. Terry Maitland has a solid alibi and eyewitnesses that testified he was with them in another city, at the time of the murder. The evidence confirming his alibi doesn’t stop here. There is also video footage (a Channel 81 tape), in which Maitland is asking a question in a conference held in that different location at the time of the murder.

Ralph is becoming desperately aware that what they thought of as an iron-clad case, is, in fact, full of conflicting evidence and is starting to repent having arrested and shamed Maitland publicly, thus not giving him a chance to shield himself. Although initially reluctant of the idea, he suspects Maitland has been the victim of a set-up, but the DNA, fingerprints and visual testimonies seem incontestable. He is starting to wonder if it is possible for a person to be in two places at the same time.

However, he has set the wheels in motion and justice is running its course and it is too late. Although Ralph will come to conclude beyond the shadow of a doubt later in the book that there is no way Maitland could have done the deed.

The Outsider Features Some Familiar Themes

The forthright and sympathetic detective is a frequent theme in Stephen King’s work. It’s almost as if we can relish the resurrection of this theme after the death of Bill Hodges at the end of his trilogy.

The suspense in The Outsider is at times almost unbearable. What begins as a police novel quickly picks up a horror tinge. The story is a compulsive read, a page-turner, like many of Stephen King’s novels.

Clues discovered during the investigation lead to other places, such as the fictional town of Marysville, Texas, where they all chance upon Claude Bolton who, not by chance, was an eyewitness to the murder case involving Terry Maitland. Strange links lead to a similar pair of gruesome murders in Ohio about the time the Maitland family had been visiting Terry’s elderly father in a home. The man who was accused of the murders also claimed to be innocent and had a similar alibi.

How Much of What you Know is Actually True?

During further investigation of this case, we meet the Oklahoma State Police detective Yune Sablo (a Mexican American) and the well-known private investigator, Holly Gibney, whom we are acquainted with from the Bill Hodges trilogy (Mr. MercedesFinders KeepersEnd of Watch), comes with a rather unorthodox approach to the case.

At a certain point in the book, Holly states that “there are monsters in the world, and their greatest advantage is the unwillingness of rational people to believe in them”, suggesting an inkling to the occult twist of the subsequent plot.

Upon research, she reveals an old Hispanic myth of El Cuco, a demon. El Cuco, a sort of Hispanic counterpart of the boogeyman, feeds not only on the physical blood and flesh of his victims but also on the dread and disheartenment of his victims.

The family of the 11-year old boy all died within less than a week from the boy’s murder, insinuating that the creature was not appeased with killing the child.  The pain ravaged and spread like wildfire throughout his family, resulting in a chain of attempted murder-suicides and heart attacks that all the remaining family members ultimately succumb to.

El Cuco

The myth of El Cuco originates in Portugal & Galicia, yet still exists in many American American countries as well as Portugal and Spain. It was carried out as a means of abashing children who misbehave in lullabies and rhymes.

His demeanor is less sinister than his modus operandi. El Cuco is considered a child eater and a kidnapper, a sort of embodiment of the devil. What is outstandimng about this monster is that it shifts shape, generally into what the child fears most.

Fear-based shape-shifting is a concept which we have come across before in Stephen King’s IT, where the monster usually shifted into whatever the watcher was most afraid of. Also similarly to IT, who thrived on fear, which was even more important than killing the children, El Cuco thrives on sorrow, which is why it lingers around after the crimes, to bathe in the feelings it has caused.

When the creature appears in a dream to Maitland’s youngest daughter, it states that it is good that she cries. Also, by dragging one of the community’s most honored citizens into this horrific murder, along with his whole family, he shatters the intrinsic pillar of righteousness and good faith of the whole community, the implications being significantly more cataclysmic.

Shape-shifting is a recurring mythological theme, present in totemism and shamanism, which persisted throughout the Middle Ages, in common folk tales as a privilege of gods and demons.

A complete shape-shifting, like the one performed by the malevolent creature, is possible down to their genetic and cellular structure, which explains de DNA evidence, the fingerprints, and the visual similitude. Further investigation down the path reveals that the shape-shifting demon has actually scratched the hands of those whose shape it was going to take.

The Outsider raises a few questions which remain unanswered. How much of what we take for granted about the universe is undeniable? How many covert realities are we oblivious of? Do we commit to getting through life with a fact-based only approach or should we challenge our dogmas to embrace circumstances beyond our level of understanding?

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