Vicious Circle (Genre: Western mystery)
by C. J. Box
The Outsider (Genre: horror mystery)
by Stephen King
Both of these books are mysteries and both are written in a particular genre style (western and horror), but there the comparison ends. Next to Stephen King’s masterful storytelling, C. J. Box seems almost an apprentice.
On the plus side of Vicious Circle, I found the life of Montana Fish and Game officer Joe Pickett, the main character, different and fun to read about. I also thought the Montana setting for the story, appealing. Box’s tale begins with some intrigue: Joe Pickett flying in a plane over a wilderness area using a FLIR (forward looking infrared) looking for a lost hunter in the deep woods. Then suddenly the FLIR image shows a white blast on the screen, and Pickett realizes the missing hunter has just been murdered. From there, the story moves to the central mystery: someone is out to kill Pickett and hurt his family. Through most of the book the answers to those questions are all too obvious. Ultimately, Vicious Circle is a tale of family vengeance in the wild west.
If the mystery disappoints in Vicious Circle, the mystery in Stephen King’s latest thriller, The Outsider, is potent. At one point in The Outsider, Stephen King references another contemporary author and mystery writer, Harlan Coben, praising Coben for his ability to create a sharply turned plot. After reading The Outsider, I’d say King learned something from Coben, except of course, King, in his storied career, has more than amply demonstrated his plot expertise through dozens of best-selling horror novels.
Yes, the plots the thing in The Outsider and you couldn’t ask for a better supernatural mystery. The set-up is the horrific rape and murder of a young boy. But the sting is that the man accused by several eye-witnesses is Terry Maitland, a mild-mannered husband and father, a baseball coach even. That’s interesting, but what pulls the reader in is the revelation that Terry Maitland was no where near the scene of the crime at the time of the murders, and was actually several miles away staying in a hotel room with friends at a convention. In this latest offering by Stephen King, he makes a contribution to the noble tradition of dobbleganger-themed stories, i.e., Poe’s William Wilson, Conrad’s The Secret Sharer, Nabokov’s Despair.
King’s book is 500 pages or more but it felt like 30 because I read so rapidly, excited to find out what was going on with this two-people-in-one-place idea, and curious about what kind of creature the murderer was. If you enjoy an entertaining read, you’ll like The Outsider. King has written some great characters over his career, but this is a solid plot that, as they say, keeps you turning pages.