Picked up a copy of Stephen King's The Colorado Kid for a buck-&-a-quarter at a Dollar General the other day. Though I knew that this book received its share of pans when it first came out, I like King's writing voice enough that I figured it was worth the small expenditure. The 184-page 2005 Hard Case paperback proved a zippy read, and, while I can see why many fans disliked it, I still enjoy the man's way of telling a story enough to feel I got my money's worth.
The book's packaging, I suspect, is largely to blame for the fannish hostility. Looking at the cover — a sultry dame with her shapely gams crossed, gazing out a the reader provocatively — and you expect a hardboiled piece of pulp comparable to the reissues that that Hard Case has made its stock in trade. But that "dame" proves to be a much less dangerous young girl reporter in the book, attentively listening as two small-town newspapermen school her in the nature of human mystery. (The only other lady in the case proves to be plump, so you know she ain't the one on the cover.) The mystery itself — a young husband found dead on the wharf of a tiny Maine island — has its share of small solutions, but its core questions are never resolved.
If this story had appeared in one of King's short novel collections (Four Past Midnight, say), between two more straightforward examples of King-work, I suspect it might've gone over better: a dollop of more realistic storytelling in between the gothic thrills. But on its own, the story's slight ruminations on the connections to journalism to reality, on the differences between manufactured and real-life mysteries, prove insufficient to support its agreeably pulpish veneer. Every time I'd put the book down and look at its evocative cover, I'd think, "Lady, you've walked into the wrong joint." The old Fawcett hardboiled writers — John D. MacDonald, Donald Hamilton, et al — would've given their loyal readers much more to chew on.