Stephen King,
The Colorado Kid
(Hard Case, 2005)

Stephen King has earned his wily old codger wings with the publication of this Hard Case Crime novel. The Colorado Kid is unlike anything King has done before. For starters, I didn't even know about this little red book until after it was published. It doesn't even look like a King novel, with its noir-ish cover and provocative tease line. It didn't read like King, either -- not the first chapter anyway. My first impressions were in no way encouraging.

When King starts telling the story of the mystery, though, I was intrigued -- so much so that I didn't put the book down until I had finished it. I can't say I'm a big fan of the ending, but I don't have a problem with it either. King does an eloquent job of explaining what he has done here in the afterword. There, he admits that readers will most likely either love or hate the book -- and I think he's right, at least to a degree. As intrigued as I was by the story, I can't say I love it, just because of that ending. Those who criticize The Colorado Kid, though, have legitimate reasons for doing so.

The Colorado Kid is the initial moniker given to a middle-aged man who turned up dead on the beach of Moose-Lookit Island (off the Maine coast) back in 1980 -- just another John Doe to the local cops. He would never have been identified without the help of the two old men running The Weekly Islander; they did more investigating than anyone with a badge ever did. Over the course of a quarter of a century, they've returned time and again to the mysterious death of this stranger on their little island. They've turned up a number of facts about the dead man, every one of which only seemed to deepen and complicate the whole picture of who this man was and how he came to die there on a beach far away from his home in Colorado.

In these pages, the two old newspapermen tell the story of the Colorado Kid to Stephanie, a young intern there at the Islander. It's a rite of passage in a way, showing the young lady she has been fully accepted into the local island family. It lets the two vets test their young charge while also providing her with important insights into the twin arts of journalism and storytelling. I found myself just as intrigued as Stephanie with the increasingly confusing depth of the mystery; like her, I wanted a solution to clear up all of the confusing facts. And there we have the proverbial rub.

Most likely, hard-boiled crime story enthusiasts will have more problems than King fans with The Colorado Kid -- although a right many of King's most loyal subjects may well balk at what the master has done in this odd endeavor off the beaten path. As long as I was flipping the pages, though, I was fully engrossed in the story -- it's not vintage Stephen King storytelling, but it's pretty darn good. The trouble only comes at the end, as it's a bit of a letdown. King's afterword, though, puts everything into perspective and changes your viewpoint of the entire story -- it's the saving grace that allowed this loyal King fan to really appreciate The Colorado Kid for what it is.

by Daniel Jolley
11 March 2006

Stephen King has written a shaggy dog story in The Colorado Kid.

For those who don't know, shaggy dog stories go like this: A man loves shaggy dogs and wants to buy the shaggiest dog in the world and advertises for one, price no object. Hundreds of people with shaggy dogs show up at his house, each with a dog shaggier than the one before. The story goes on and on, building tension as the man rejects dog after dog as not shaggy enough.

Finally a man shows up with an unbelievably shaggy dog. You describe the dog's amazing shagginess at length. Then, the man comes out, takes a look, and turns up his nose. "Too shaggy," he says.

The point of the joke is the gigantic letdown at the end. The Colorado Kid follows this pattern to a T.

But shaggy dog stories are still stories. And, perversely, King has written a meditation on stories by telling one that heads to a letdown, because the central mystery -- SPOILER: How did the body of a Coloradan end up dead on a Maine beach just hours after he disappeared from Colorado???: END SPOILER -- is left a mystery at the end.

King has violated a central tenet inherent in Hard Case Crime. The story has no plausible resolution. I credit King with writing it and I credit Hard Case crime for publishing a risky book. But I didn't like it that much.

by Dave Sturm
8 August 2009


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