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The Outsider is a crime-thriller book by Stephen King. It was published on May 22, 2018, and was the 72nd book by Stephen King, and his 58th novel, the 51st under his own name. HBO produced a miniseries that premiered on January 12, 2020. This book is part of The Hodges/Gibney metaseries.




Synopsis

An eleven-year-old boy’s violated corpse is found in a town park. Eyewitnesses and fingerprints point unmistakably to one of Flint City’s most popular citizens. He is Terry Maitland, Little League coach, English teacher, husband, and father of two girls. Detective Ralph Anderson, whose son Maitland once coached, orders a quick and very public arrest. Maitland has an alibi, but Anderson and the district attorney soon add DNA evidence to go with the fingerprints and witnesses. Their case seems ironclad.

As the investigation expands and horrifying answers begin to emerge, King’s propulsive story kicks into high gear, generating strong tension and almost unbearable suspense. Terry Maitland seems like a nice guy, but is he wearing another face?

Plot

In Flint City, Oklahoma, the remains of a brutally murdered, raped, and mutilated child named Frankie Peterson are found by a man walking his dog. Flint City police detective Ralph Anderson leads the investigation and interviews several witnesses who all saw local little league coach Terry Maitland before, around the time of, and after Frankie Peterson's murder, with one witness seeing Maitland pick up Peterson in a van, another witness claims to have seen Maitland walking out of the woods covered in blood, and another witness, a strip club bouncer named Claude Bolton, saw Maitland after the killing. Bolton also states that while shaking hands with Maitland, his hand was slightly cut. There is also forensic evidence from the crime scene pointing to Maitland's guilt, with his fingerprints and DNA found at the scene and in the van used to abduct Peterson. With all of this evidence, Detective Anderson orders a very public arrest of Maitland, who at one point coached Ralph's son, at a little league game in front of a full stadium.

Maitland is arrested despite his claims that he was not in town when Frankie Peterson was murdered, but Ralph and District Attorney Bill Samuels don't believe him. Terry's wife, Marcy, calls their attorney and friend Howie Gold to help Terry, and he soon arrives at the police station where Ralph and Samuels begin questioning Terry. Maitland once again claims that he wasn't in town during Peterson's murder. He says he was at a teacher's conference in the nearby Cap City, along with several other teachers, all of whom back up Terry's alibi, and gives a detailed description of that day's events at the conference. Ralph and Samuels are caught off-guard by Maitland's alibi, but still insist on his guilt, given the forensic evidence found at the scene of the crime. Howie Gold has private investigator Alec Pelley go to the hotel where the conference was held. Pelley discovers public-access tv footage of Maitland at the conference, confirming his alibi. Ralph and Samuels are again caught off-guard and Ralph begins to question arresting Maitland so hastily, but they still believe him guilty.

Ralph goes to the hotel where the conference was held and finds that Maitland handled a book in the hotel's gift shop. Ralph buys the book and takes it back to Flint City, where he finds Maitland's fingerprints on it. Ralph and state police lieutenant Yune Sablo show the prints to Samuels, who implies that they should destroy them, which Ralph refuses to do.

Meanwhile, the Peterson family deteriorates following Frankie's death. Arlene Peterson suffers a breakdown following her youngest son's funeral. She then suffers a fatal heart attack. Her husband Fred and oldest son Ollie are left to deal with the aftermath of her death.

Ralph goes to talk to Maitland personally, where he expresses how baffled he is by the conflicting evidence. The day of Maitland's arraignment, he refuses to wear a bulletproof vest. The scene at the courthouse is out of control, with the rowdy crowd all chanting for Maitland's conviction and death. Before Maitland can get inside, Ollie Peterson appears out of the crowd and begins firing a gun, hitting Maitland twice before being shot and killed by police. With Maitland dying, Ralph tries to get him to give a dying declaration stating his guilt, but Terry once again declares his innocence before succumbing to his wounds. Before the shooting, Ralph notes how he saw a burned man in the crowd.

After Terry's death, Ralph is placed on administrative leave, and Samuels says that he won't be running for reelection as district attorney. At the Maitland house, Terry and Marcy's youngest daughter Grace says she keeps seeing a man with a "play-doh" face and straws for eyes. Following Ollie's death, Fred Peterson tries to commit suicide by hanging, during which the man with straws for eyes is watching nearby. Fred is saved by his neighbor, but is left with brain damage.

Despite being on administrative leave, Ralph continues looking into the case, with the help of his wife Jeannie. He's told by Sablo that the van used to abduct Frankie Peterson was originally stolen by a runaway teen, who left it in Dayton, Ohio, around the same time the Maitlands were on a family vacation there. Ralph tried to question Marcy but she refuses, but relents after Ralph asks Howie Gold. Ralph questions Marcy, with Howie and Pelley present, about the trip to Dayton, and she tells him that Terry was visiting his father, who has dementia. The Maitland's oldest daughter Sarah says that Terry got a cut on his hand while visiting his father at the dementia hospital. Marcy says the cut happened when Terry bumped into a male nurse at the hospital. Ralph leaves and Pelley tells him to come to him if he needs help with the investigation.

Fellow police detective Jack Hoskins is called in from his vacation. He's told to go to a barn outside Flint City where clothes were discovered that belonged to Maitland. On the clothes are Maitland's fingerprints as well as an unknown substance resembling semen. While investigating the barn, Hoskins is accosted by an unknown shrouded person, but Hoskins escapes. Sablo tells Ralph about the clothes found at the barn and says that while some of the prints found were Maitland's, others were grainy and looked as if they belonged to an older person. Sablo also tells Ralph that the unknown substance is still unidentified. Hoskins awakes at his home and has what feels like a sunburn on the back of his neck. While in the bathroom, a presence appears behind his shower curtain. This being's hands are seen with the words "CANT" and "MUST" tattooed on them. The presence tells Jack that he has cancer and that it can take it away if Jack does what it asks of him. Jack then wakes up in his own bed the next day.

At the Maitland home, Grace is once again accosted by the presence of someone who slightly resembles her father, but looks different. This presence taunts Grace and tells her to feel sad and cry, and then gives Grace a message for Detective Anderson. Grace calls Howie, who then informs Marcy, and they have Ralph come over to talk to Grace. Grace tells him that whoever came to her wants Ralph to stop his investigation, or else something bad will happen.

Howie and Alec Pelley hire private investigator Holly Gibney to look into the Maitlands' movements while they were in Dayton. During her investigation, Holly learns of a similar case in which two girls were killed in a similar fashion to Frankie Peterson. All the evidence in that case pointed directly to Heath Holmes, an orderly who worked at the dementia hospital where Terry's father was a patient. Holmes claims that he was out of town when the two girls were killed, but he isn't believed and, upon being arrested, commits suicide, after which his mother also does. Holmes was supposed to be on vacation during the time of the girls' deaths, but witnesses claim that he was at the dementia hospital the day Terry Maitland was visiting his father. Holly comes to the conclusion that Holmes and Maitland were both innocent, and she tells Pelley that she has to meet with all involved with the investigation.

Jeannie wakes up at home one night and goes downstairs to discover an unknown person. This presence gives her a message for Ralph, it being again for him to drop his investigation or else something bad will happen. Jeannie faints and wakes up in bed the following morning. She is shaken from the encounter and gives Ralph the message. Jeannie believes that whoever is really behind Frankie Peterson's murder must be supernatural, but Ralph refuses to believe that.

Holly flies to Flint City for a meeting at Howie Gold's office, attended by Ralph, Jeannie, Howie, Pelley, Sablo, Samuels, and Marcy. There, Sablo tells everyone of the case of the murdered girls in Dayton, and everyone acknowledges how similar that case is to the Peterson case. When Holly speaks, she asks everyone to keep an open mind, and then shows them a few minutes of a Mexican luchadora film. The film depicts a mysterious presence kidnapping and murdering a child, leaving evidence that points directly to one man, who expresses his innocence, but is found guilty and subsequently hanged. At the hanging, the man sees the presence, called El Cuco. Holly turns the film off and Sablo speaks on the legend of El Cuco, a sort of Mexican boogeyman who kills children, drinks their blood, and rubs their fat on him. Holly states how she believes El Cuco, which she refers to as an outsider, is responsible for the deaths of the girls in Dayton and Frankie Peterson. Holly says that El Cuco (The Outsider) is able to mimic a person's appearance by absorbing their blood. Ralph again refuses to believe in anything supernatural, but Jeannie demands him to keep an open mind. Ralph asks Jeannie to describe the person who appeared to her in their home. Jeannie gives a description, and Ralph realizes that the description fits that of Claude Bolton, but Bolton was in Marysville, Texas with his mother during the time Jeannie says she saw him. Believing that Bolton could possibly be The Outsider's next victim, Ralph, Sablo. Holly, Howie, and Pelley decide to fly down to Marysville to talk to Bolton. Meanwhile, Jack Hoskins is commanded by The Outsider to go to Texas and await for the group's arrival, and to stop them from reaching him.

Before leaving for Texas, Holly once again reiterates to Ralph that he must keep an open mind or he could be putting himself in danger. The group go to the Bolton residence and they all become acquainted. Claude is told that he could be in danger, but the group fear that since The Outsider is now mimicking Claude's appearance, The Outsider could also be tuned into Claude's thoughts. Claude's mother, Lovie, sends Claude away to get dinner for all of them, while she continues to talk to the group about the situation. Holly tells Lovie that The Outsider is attracted to places of death and sorrow, and asks if there's a cemetery nearby. Lovie says there is, and that some of Claude's relatives are buried there. Lovie tells the story of how the relatives were killed in a cave-in at a tourist attraction called the Marysville Hole. The cave -in happened following the disappearance of two children in one of the caves, and a search party was put together to find them. A gun was fired inside the cave to try to attract the missing children, but the sound made more of the cave collapse, trapping several people. Ralph, Holly, Sablo, Howie, and Pelley deduce that the Marysville Hole is where The Outsider could be hiding, and decide to go there the next day.

Jack is told by The Outsider to go to the Marysville Hole and wait for the group and then kill them all. The group drive to the Hole and are immediately fired upon by Jack, who's in a sniper position overlooking them. Howie and Pelley are both killed and Sablo is wounded. A shot to their vehicle's gas tank causes it to explode, and Jack is repeatedly bitten by a rattlesnake, but is told he can be healed by The Outsider, but that he must keep Ralph and Holly from reaching him. While leaving Sablo in cover, Ralph and Holly go into the caves where they are followed by Jack. Following a brief standoff, Ralph kills Jack. Ralph and Holly make their way further into the cave where they are then greeted by The Outsider, who resembles a mixture of Claude and Terry Maitland.

Ralph prepares to shoot The Outsider, but is told that a gunshot could cause another cave-in, killing all of them. The Outsider begins talking about how he must kill to survive, and asks them if they've ever met anyone like him before. Holly calls The Outsider a perverted predator, which causes him to begin to lunge for her, but he is immediately thwarted when Holly hits him repeatedly over the head with a happy slapper (a weapon similar to that used by her to dispatch Brady Hartsfield in Mr. Mercedes). The Outsider begins to disintegrate and worm-like creatures begin crawling from his body. With The Outsider appearing destroyed, Ralph and Holly exit the cave. Holly and Sablo go to the Bolton residence to get their stories straight with them, while Ralph waits with the bodies of Howie and Pelley.

Later, DA Bill Samuels announces Terry Maitland's exoneration, alleging defective DNA samples and confirming the video proof supporting Maitland's alibi, and Ralph says goodbye to Holly, thanking her for telling him to keep an open mind.

Characters

  • Ralph Anderson - A detective from Flint City PD. He investigates the gruesome murder of an eleven year old boy. Like most characters, at first he believes Terry Maitland is the murderer but later starts to have doubts.
  • Holly Gibney - A private investigator from Finder’s Keepers, who assists Anderson, Gold, Pelley and Sablo in finding the real murderer.
  • Howie Gold - Terry Maitland’s lawyer. He firmly believes Terry is innocent and assists Anderson, Gibney, Pelley and Sablo in discovering the real murderer. He and Pelley are killed by a psychotic Jack Hoskins.
  • Alec Pelley - A former police officer who now works in law. Alec Pelley assists Anderson, Gibney, Pelley and Sablo in finding the real murderer. He and Gold are killed by a psychotic Jack Hoskins.
  • Terry Maitland - A Flint City Boys Little League coach. He becomes the prime suspect of the murder of an eleven-year-old boy, but maintains his innocence. He is killed by the boy’s brother outside the courthouse.
  • Jeannie Anderson - Ralph’s wife. She is extremely disturbed by the murder and assists Ralph while he battles the case emotionally.
  • Marcy Maitland - Terry Maitland’s wife. She stands by her man during the whole ordeal and is harassed by the media as well as her daughters.
  • Bill Samuels - Flint City ADA in charge of the murder case trial. He refuses to believe that a supernatural creature killed the boy and firmly believes Terry is guilty. Upon discovering the truth, he retires from his job after being too disturbed.
  • Yune Sablo - A detective from Flint City PD. He assists Anderson, Gibney, Pelley and Gold in the murder case. He is severely wounded by a psychotic Jack Hoskins but survives.
  • Jack Hoskins - A lazy, corrupt detective from Flint City PD who hates Ralph Anderson. He is taunted by The Outsider and attempts to kill Anderson, Gibney, Gold, Pelley and Sablo. He eventually dies from his injuries.
  • Claude Bolton - A man who has a dodgy reputation. He is almost set up as the murderer in The Outsider’s next murder.

Connections to Other Stephen King Works

The Hodges/Gibney metaseries
Novels Mr. MercedesFinders KeepersEnd of WatchThe Outsider
Short stories If it Bleeds
Adaptations Mr. Mercedes (TV Series)The Outsider (TV Series)
Characters Bill HodgesHolly GibneyJerome Robinson
Brady Hartsfield
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