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.