Posts Tagged ‘mystery/thriller’

You know, I’ve never reviewed a proper Stephen King story on this blog before. I’ve reviewed plenty of adaptations of his work, but never any of his actual stories. Probably because I’ve either gotten to them too late and so much time has passed that doing a review seems silly (which is true with the vast majority of his bibliography) or I didn’t feel there was enough to talk about to actually write a decent review (such as Gwendy’s Button Box, co-written with author Richard Chizmar). So I’m glad I’m finally able to review one of his books here. And this one is something else: it’s his latest novel, The Outsider.

The Outsider follows Ralph Anderson, a detective in the small city of Flint City, Oklahoma. The novel opens with Ralph and his fellow officers arresting Terry Maitland, a local teacher and boys’ baseball coach who is beloved by Flint City, for the horrific murder of a young boy. The state’s case seems ironclad: there’s not only eyewitnesses, but a ton of physical evidence linked back to Maitland. But soon after the arrest, evidence arises to cast doubt on Maitland’s guilt, and it’s just as ironclad. The contradiction in this case leads to a domino effect as Anderson and his allies try to figure out if the beloved Coach Maitland is hiding a darker personality, or if someone else, someone darker and worse, is at large in the town.

Now before I go into my review, let me just say that this book shares a few characters in common with King’s Mr. Mercedes trilogy, and contains a few spoilers. So if you haven’t read those books yet and would like to be surprised, probably hold off on this book until you’ve read those.

So I have to say, I came away very satisfied with this story. I like how King starts out with this novel seeming like a regular thriller-mystery: he shows the arrest, switching between the action and then showing interviews and documents from the investigation. The Outsider continues in this vein for a little while, but then goes in a different direction that defies your expectations so far. From there it develops into a compelling and strange read with some great characters. I especially liked Holly Gibney, who comes from the Mr. Mercedes trilogy. She’s neuro-atypical, like myself, but is shown to be an integral part of the investigation and makes certain leaps that, without her, the other characters might never be able to. It’s a very real portrayal of someone with disabilities, and I related to Holly on a number of levels. I love those sorts of portrayals of neuro-diverse people in fiction, and I hope to see more in the future.

But probably the novel’s greatest strength is just how hard it is to put down. King takes mystery, the strange, great characters, and much more to make a read that’s hard to put down. Normally I’m able to restrain myself to reading during my lunch break or on weekends, but this novel was so good, I found myself reading it late into the evening at times (which helped me to get to this review today).

That being said, The Outsider does have its issues. One of the biggest ones is that we’ve seen a lot of the concepts used and explored in the book in other King novels, and frankly done better there. I won’t say what, but they’re pretty obvious, and every time they came up, I kept thinking to myself, “This feels like a lighter/duller version of insert-story-name-here.” That, and I felt that the climax could’ve been a bit more epic. It was decent, but I felt it was hampered by too much exposition on the parts of the characters and the story’s villain, who is humanized a little too much (that makes more sense if you’ve read the book). Which, unfortunately, lowers the terror factor with a creative villain that could be as scary as some of King’s other famous villains. I was disappointed about that.

Overall, The Outsider is an entrancing and powerful read, subverting your expectations and leaving you wanting more. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving it a 4.6. Check it out, and get sent down a mine shaft full of the strange and the unsettling.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’ve got my own novel to work on, so I’m going to get on that this evening. Until then, pleasant nightmares!

Advertisements

Last week I had a dream that started pleasantly and ended up being kind of nightmarish: it involved me and a friend of mine from high school navigating an area with lots of rivers and creeks on surfboards. We were looking for a mythical golden treasure trove that many had searched for and failed. We’d heard the treasure we were looking for was cursed, but we went searching for it anyway, because nothing bad has ever come from seeking and finding cursed objects. Somehow we found the treasure where so many others had failed, split it up between us, and go home. However, soon after that, weird stuff starts happening: things move on their own, the faces on the coins change shape, and that’s just the start of our problems. Well before it gets really bad though, my friend and I realize that we have to return the treasure to where we found it.

At some point, someone in the dream says I could write a story about what’s happened to us. To which I replied, “Someone already did. It’s called Pirates of the Caribbean.”

After we agree to take the treasure back, I woke up. It didn’t take me long to figure out the main message of the dream (besides the fact that I can point out when my situation resembles a famous film in my dreams). You see, the night before I’d taken a swipe at starting the fifth draft of Rose, based on my publisher Castrum’s comments and suggestions. I got about a page in, and I hit a metaphorical roadblock. I couldn’t figure out how to advance. So I ended up going to bed not sure how to move further in editing this novel while at the same time integrating my publisher’s suggestions (many of which I agree with and think could elevate the quality of the novel).

That dream was my subconscious giving me a rather creative presentation of my doubts and anxieties regarding the editing and publishing process for Rose: that signing with a publisher was a really bad idea, that there’s nothing I’ll be able to do to make this novel publishable, that even if I somehow get it released, it’ll suck and anybody who reads it will leave bad reviews. A dark side to achieving my dream and finding a publisher, represented expertly by cursed gold.*

And then on Saturday, I tried again. And it went extremely well. I got thirteen out of sixteen pages in that chapter done. Yesterday, I got the last three pages done, plus all eleven of the next chapter (and while taking in a double feature on the Blu-Ray Player in the afternoon). And then today, I got another chapter done within a couple of hours. That’s an average of a chapter a day! Take that, conscious and subconscious fears involving working with a publishing process.

Obviously, these are still early stages of the fifth draft, and I’m going to encounter moments where I’m not sure what to write or how to integrate a suggestion from the publisher. Luckily though, my publisher has been great about answering any questions I have (thank God they don’t see me as a pushy American) and offering feedback to my ideas on how to integrate their suggestions. And with these last three chapters, I’ve been able to move forward mostly on my own. And with time, I’m sure I can get through the rest without trouble, and well before May 16th. I just have to keep being creative and persevere.

Obviously, doubts about what I’m doing and where I’m going will plague me throughout my writing career from here on out. I’ve passed a new turning point in my career, and it’s a whole new playing field from here on out. But the next time I feel those worries start to get to me, I’ll remember the dream about the cursed gold, and the productive weekend that followed. And I’ll just keep editing through my doubts.

And while I still have your attention, I’d like to give a shout out to my good friend and fellow novelist at Castrum, Matt Williams. He just finished writing his novel The Jovian Incident, Book Two of the Formist series, and will hopefully have it out later this year. I can’t wait to read it, as I really enjoyed the first book, The Cronian Incident, which currently holds a 4.7 out of 5 on Amazon based on 12 reviews. If you would like to read some hard-boiled detective fiction in a futuristic universe, this series may be the one you’re looking for. Check it out and leave Matt a review while you’re at it.

Until next time, my Followers of Fear, pleasant nightmares (hopefully none that resemble popular contemporary movies, though).

*Still not sure why I was using a surfboard to navigate rivers and creeks (obviously a reference to the various paths we authors take to finding a publisher), as well as why that particular friend was with me (I love the guy and it always seems like no time has passed at all when we see each other, but he’s not a fiction writer, so I can’t think of why he would be in the dream).

I’ve been keen to read this novel since Stephen King tweeted about it months ago, saying this novel, which apparently is the first work of an already-established author published under a pen name, was the first great thriller of 2017.* By the time it came out on July 11th, I was one of the first people to get a copy at the library. And while I don’t always agree with King on what makes a good story (see my review for A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay), I have to say, he was right that this is a great thriller novel, possibly the first great one of 2017 (I haven’t read most of the others that came out this year, so who am I to judge?).

Final Girls follows Quincy Carpenter, the lone survivor of the Pine Cottage Massacre, in which a man she only refers to as Him killed all her friends while on a camping trip and she was the only survivor. This has made Quincy part of an exclusive club known as the Final Girls, women who have survived horror-movie style massacres and, like the girls in those movies, are the only ones to survive. The other two are Lisa Milner, the survivor of a sorority house murder spree in Indiana, and Samantha Boyd, who escaped and killed a killer known as the Sack Man at a motel in Florida. Quincy, who has no memory of the events at Pine Cottage, wants nothing but to keep up her baking blog, maybe marry her defense attorney boyfriend someday, and have some definition of normal.

That is, until Lisa Milner dies under mysterious circumstances in Indiana, and Samantha Boyd shows up at Quincy’s apartment in New York to talk. Suddenly Quincy’s life is thrown into a maelstrom as Sam’s presence threatens not just to unearth the memories from that fateful night, but change her world forever.

Immediately, you feel like this is two stories in one, a standard slasher and a mystery/thriller. On the slasher hand, you get to read Quincy’s recollections of Pine Cottage, which are told in third-person POV and past tense. And on the other hand, you get the events of Quincy’s current life, which are told in first-person POV and present tense, which is a mystery/thriller mixed with the story of two completely opposite people trying to bond over an incredible and dark situation. And both stories are peppered with references to horror movies, especially the best of the slasher genre. There are some obvious ones: Quincy’s last name is a reference to director John Carpenter of the Halloween series, while Lisa Milner’s massacre is an obvious reference to Black Christmas. But there are other, subtler references. ┬áThe mystery elements definitely remind me of the Scream movies and the TV series, which utilize mystery to offset themselves from tried-and-done-to-death slasher stories, as well as elements that make me think of Urban Legend. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, there are probably references I don’t recognize from movies/comics/shows/books I haven’t seen or read yet.

I also really enjoyed the characters. Quincy felt incredibly real to me: rather than being a character who’s always good and delicate or always damaged and dealing with her issues, she’s actually a pretty good balance of both. She’s clearly made some progress in trying to move on and have a new normal, but she also has issues that she doesn’t want to address, even takes some joy in, and those occasionally threaten the balance she’s trying to maintain in her life. It’s very refreshing to see such a realistic character like that. I also found Samantha Boyd (or Sam, as she prefers), to be very real. She’s a girl whose life is one defined by horrors, and who’s trying, in her own way, to reach out to the one person left in the world who knows what it’s like to have felt horrors like hers. The way she does it isn’t exactly smooth, but it does feel like someone with her background might use to reach out and find some mutual catharsis.

But the best part of the story is definitely how twisty it is. Even when we go back to Quincy’s past, it is anything but a standard slasher, going in directions you don’t see coming. Just today, while reading the last 70 or so pages, I kept marveling at surprise after surprise after surprise. And that’s pretty much how it is for most of the book, especially in the latter half of it. I think even some veteran mystery/thriller fans will find themselves surprised at the twists in store here in Final Girls.

If there’s one thing that might have been a drawback for this novel, I felt that the moments that Quincy and Sam were trying to bond were a little slow at times, but that may be nitpicking on my part. They were still well-written parts, and they showed both how much these girls wanted to be friends and how much they rubbed against each other as people.

On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving Final Girls a well-earned 4.6. From one page to the next, you never know what to expect, and it will only leave you wanting more. Go ahead, pick it up, and find you have a hard time putting it down.

* This tweet and hints about the author’s identity make me think it might be Stephen King’s son Joe Hill doing his own Richard Bachman turn, but that’s just my guess.