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Book Review: Stephen King’s The Colorado Kid

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After being down on Stephen King over Cell, it’s nice to be back up again. In the process of purchasing that novel at Amazon, I got sucked into one of those “buy two books and get a discount” offers and picked up The Colorado Kid, cheap, on the same order.

Several critics have slagged King’s contribution to the “Hard Case Crime” series, and I understand their complaints. I’ll get to those in a moment, but right up front it’s important to make it clear that The Colorado Kid is just a plain good story, delivered as only King can deliver it. At a little under 200 pages, it’s toward the short end of the King novel standard, but just right for the kind of story it is. At the last line of the last page, you’ll want to read more, but not more of this. The story is perfectly cooked and elegantly served.

“Hard Case Crime” is a Dorchester imprint dedicated exclusively to “hardboiled” mystery novels. For those unfamiliar with the mystery genre, “hardboiled” is the bad side of town – detectives of slightly off-white character, more blood, more ambiguity of motive on both sides of the law – as opposed to Agatha Christie-style “cozies” or the “police procedurals” which have dominated the genre for some years (and spawned an even more dominant style of television series – the Law and Order and CSI franchises being the obvious examples).

That The Colorado Kid is not hardboiled mystery gives rise to the foremost critical complaint. It’s a valid complaint (and no, it wouldn’t fit well under a conventional “horror” heading, either). There are no seedy private eyes, police corruption or anti-hero moments. The only real reason for this novel to appear under this imprint is that no publisher in his right mind will turn away from the chance to ship product with “by Stephen King” on the cover.

The second complaint is that – I’m trying not to spoil anything here, but it’s difficult – there’s no concrete, all-loose-ends-tied-up, ending. The story doesn’t end with a car chase and a shootout and the villain lying on the floor in a pool of his own blood (or muttering that he would’ve gotten away with it if it wasn’t for those meddling kids). A lot of loose ends remain when the story ends … but by the time you get there, my money says you’ll understand why.

The Colorado Kid consists mostly of two old newspaper men telling a young intern reporter the story of a body discovered 25 years before on the shore of Moose-Look Island, Maine. The telling of the story is just as much part of the story as the story, if you take my meaning.

The characters – old guys, young gal, corpse – are fully drawn to the demands of the plot: Young journalism student, trying to decide what she wants to do with her life and why; old writers, proud of their trade and trying to pass on the why of it all, along with the what, to their charge. And our dead man: An enigma complete in a way which evokes, in turn, sympathy and suspicion.

Beyond the characters is the obvious: Any King fan knows that he always gets Maine, and especially the island people, right. In that respect, this is probably King’s best revisitation of the environment since Dolores Claiborne.

So: Two old men who’ve covered a story for 25 years but are suddenly and curiously reticent when it comes to discussing it with outsiders. An eager beaver in transition from student to reporter and from outsider to islander. And a body, casting its shadow across the decades and over the lives of all three. Good stuff.

The third complaint is mine, and it’s so minor as to only bear mentioning by way of crowing: I found a plot error. King refers to a character going to Starbucks for “a real cup of coffee” in 1980. I don’t know for sure if there were any Starbucks coffehouses in 1980, but I do know (thanks to Google) that the first one in the location in question opened in 1992. So take that, King. But take it with my compliments for a story well told.
Edited: [GH]

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About Thomas L. Knapp

  • Gordon Hauptfleisch

    I think you’re right about the Starbucks anachronism. They should force an editor on King–a couple hundred pages of the kitchen-sink stinker Dreamcatcher could’ve been cut out. Unneccessary subplots, reptititions, etc. abounded–the mention of “the peanut farmer in the White House” was amusing enough the first time around without repeating it like it was something new 157 page later.

  • Raul Duran


    Very nice review I really concord with your appreciation for King’s writing style.

    Anyway regarding the matter about the Starbucks here is my opinion on the matter.

    I don’t think King made a mistake here and the reason is this:

    If you have read the Dark Tower series you know that King clearly establishes that ALL his books are “true” stories that exist in many parallel worlds from where the Dark Tower is the axis. So because of this everything he writes about or has written about it’s connected to the Tower. Sometimes in these worlds there are little differences like Beatles song’s with different lyrics or towns who don’t exist. Sometimes they are completely different (like a Medieval world where Queens, magic and knights commonly exist).

    In this world where the “Colorado Kid” story takes place there is a Starbucks in 1980 maybe founded earlier in the 60’s or 70’s, maybe there even is a “Red Sox” baseball team although in this world it is called the “Crimson Sox” if you know what I mean 😉

    That is just how King’s Universe works.

  • Gordon and Raul,

    Thanks for weighing in! Responses:

    – I don’t think that King refuses to be edited, and to put out a body of work the size of his without a few glaring errors would be damn near impossible. Stuft just gets missed, that’s all. The difference now is that a couple of minutes with Google make it easy for a fan (say, me) to yell “gotcha!” when it happens.

    – Raul, nice comeback. Yes, I suppose this could be just another world along the Beam, where Starbucks was in business under that name at that time. Matter of fact, the idea is seductive in terms of just how the story pans out. There aren’t any obvious references to the Dark Tower/eternal conflict Kingiverse in The Colorado Kid, but just because they aren’t obvious, that doesn’t mean they aren’t there.

    Tom Knapp

  • Tom–I overstated the editor issue, but my thinking is that if I–as a reader–catch these goofs so easily, why doesn’t an editor, who is getting paid, not? I just have an impression that King has such clout that he can, and does, do without an editor much more than most writers. Not only to catch the details, but also provide big-picture advice about overkill in subplot, theme, character, etc.

  • This article has been selected for syndication to Advance.net, which is affiliated with newspapers around the United States. Nice work!

  • Rick Urban

    If you go to King’s web site you’ll see the following:

    “The review of The Colorado Kid in today’s issue of USA Today mentions that there was no Starbucks in Denver in 1980. Don’t assume that’s a mistake on my part. The constant readers of the Dark Tower series may realize that that is not necessarily a continuity error, but a clue.”

  • Raul Duran

    There you go, it seems we were on the right track Gordon.

    Thankee-Sai Rick!.

  • Thanks for the update. Of course, I’m miffed that King chose to respond to USA today instead of to me 😉

    Tom Knapp

  • Raul Duran

    Oh don’t worry about that Thomas, it is FOR SURE a typo he got away with, he probably meant Blogcritics.org instead of USA Today. 😉

    P.S. I even made one mistake myself, just to keep on the same vein, in my last post I meant you and I were on the same track, nothing against Gordon but he was more sure it was indulgence over King editing than anything else in the Starbucks “anachronism”.

  • Christine

    I personally do not care for the sexist use of pronouns Stephen uses. If he included women more and didn’t always make them a weak character that depends on men I could tolerate reading him.