Over in Vermont this summer, a friend of mine who’s the editor of two daily newspapers there had to shut down social media accounts and take other drastic editorial and personal measures because the response to a local news story got out of hand. Way out of hand.

The police objected to how the newspaper covered a horrible murder-suicide, saying, in part, that the reporting showed sympathy for the shooter, a school athletics coach. Misunderstandings flared. Members of the public piled on. Soon people were saying the newspaper had implied blame to the murder victim, a young woman. My friend started receiving unnerving text messages and even visits to his home.

Yikes. In stressful times, it can get really hard to recognize the very people you live with. Especially when people misunderstand the facts — or don’t know them at all.

One way or another, fiction follows fact. Except when fact follows fiction.

In Flint City, Oklahoma, the scene of Stephen King’s latest novel, “The Outsider,” a young boy has been horrifically murdered. The cops are nearly certain who did it, even though they can hardly believe it — their suspect is a well-known, well-liked kids’ baseball coach, family man, pillar of the community. But there are eyewitnesses, if not to the murder, at least to the obvious train of events. There is unmistakable evidence in the form of an abandoned van and fingerprints.

Police Detective Ralph Anderson is so sure Terry “Coach T” Maitland is the killer that he is persuaded by District Attorney Bill Samuels to make the coach’s arrest a humiliating public spectacle. Part of Anderson is enraged because his own son had been one of Maitland’s young athletes. And despite his long belief in Maitland being a paragon, Anderson is certain the evidence proves Maitland did it.


Until, that is, he’s not certain.

Along the way, things go from bad to worse in public. Maitland and his family plummet from well-liked to despised by the community. Soon Anderson finds himself being helped by one of Bill Hodges’ associates from King’s previous “Hodges trilogy” of novels. As the public response gets further and further out of hand, Holly Gibney starts turning up weirder and weirder facts. Who, exactly, is Terry Maitland?

“The Outsider” is a book about people’s willingness to believe any appearance that fits a narrative they already think they understand. Where good guys think other good guys are bad guys. Where guys who used to be good turn bad. Where something so weird is going on underneath what appears to be happening that it can hardly be believed. And isn’t, for a long time.

And of course, sowing all this anger, sorrow and chaos is The Outsider.

The theme of monsters in our midst has been prevalent in fiction for decades — from “Invasion of the Body-Snatchers” to “The Thing” to “The X-Files,” and many more. What you get on this theme from Stephen King, of course, is a really itchy, uncomfortable feeling of heightened reality — the feeling that all this could somehow, supernatural agencies and all, have really happened. Or in a weird, metaphorical way, be actually happening right before our Fox News-boggled eyes. Appearance versus reality. Fiction versus facts. Outsiders who look exactly like us, and aren’t. Confusion. Anger. Illusion. Things getting out of hand.

Like all of Stephen King’s best stories, “The Outsider” is creepily believable. If you liked the Hodges books — “Mr. Mercedes,“Finders Keepers” and “End of Watch” — you’ll like “The Outsider,” maybe even better. It’s another finely tuned, detective-oriented installment from the late stages of the Bangor novelist’s prolific career.

Off Radar takes note of poetry and books with Maine connections. Contact Dana Wilde at universe@dwildepress.net.

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