In spite of the years that have gone by since the publication of his debut novel, Carrie, in 1974, Stephen King remains arguably best known as a writer of popular horror fiction, the self-confessed ‘literary equivalent of a Big Mac and fries’. This misconception is ironic in that much of King’s commercial longevity is attributable to his flexibility in regard to the kinds of stories he wishes to tell, his willingness not only to write with confidence across a variety of categories – satire, the fairy tale, stories of survival, of psychological unease, of sentimental redemption – but also to splice and hybridise existing genres. Consider The Stand, a kind of Manichaean post-apocalyptic fable, or his mad, sprawling, multi-volume epic The Dark Tower, which melds the western with high fantasy, horror, light comedy and self-referential metafiction. His latest project, The Outsider, is less ambitious, although much of its suspense rests on whether King means to blur the generic lines he establishes in the opening chapters, or if it is his intention to colour strictly within them.
The book starts out straightforwardly enough, in the manner of a grisly police procedural. It is the present day, and King takes us a little outside his comfort zone of Maine to the state of Oklahoma, where the beleaguered, if largely wholesome detective Ralph Anderson (a young Tom