Book: The Colorado Kid by Stephen King

Half, or maybe a little less, of a crime novel

Stephen King
The Colorado Kid
Dorchester Publishing, 2005
ISBN: 0-8439-5584-8
184 pages

The Colorado Kid is part of the Hard Case Crime series. The series is an effort to bring back the virtues of hard-boiled 1950s pulp crime novels. Even down to the cover art, which in this case shows a woman in a slinky dress holding a tape recorder. Since I rather like hard-boiled 1950s pulp crime novels, I think that's a great idea. And since I had never read a Stephen King novel and many people like his writing, it seemed natural to expect that I'd like The Colorado Kid. Alas, I didn't.

The book is a short novel that consists almost entirely of a conversation among the three people who make up the staff of a weekly newspaper that's published for the residents of a small island off the coast of Maine. Two are old men and they tell the story of a mysterious death that happened on the island some 25 years previously. They tell it to the young woman who's the newspaper's intern. There's already a problem. There's nothing particularly hard-boiled about the setting. Hard-boiled novels generally take place in gritty cities where crime lurks around every street corner, not in charming and picturesque villages on sunny afternoons. And there's even less that's hard-boiled about two old men sitting on a porch telling a story.

But Stephen King is considered by many to be quite a writer. He's just setting himself a challenge by stacking the deck against himself, right? He'll pull off a hard-boiled crime novel despite starting at a disadvantage. Indeed, it will be even better because he'll show what a master he is of plot twists and atmosphere-setting when he pulls it off. That's what I thought at the beginning. Alas, it's not what happens.

But there's worse. Not only is there nothing remotely hard-boiled about the novel, the mystery is left unresolved. As the number of pages between me and the back cover dwindled, I began to wonder how Mr King would be able to manage a resolution in the space remaining. Despite having been disappointed in the atmosphere and the plot, I expected a master-stroke at the end. Instead, the three people agree that it's all very puzzling and go home.

Not all novels, nor even all crime novels, need to have tidy conclusions. But if you're going to adopt the appearances of a genre, you should respect its major conventions.

In an entirely different guise, The Colorado Kid might be good. If the publisher had been Post-Modern Mysteries Incorporated, the cover had shown an abstract design or maybe a large question-mark, and the book had the subtitle "Small-Town Newspapermen Contemplate the Nature of Mysteries" the reader wouldn't be set up for a crashing disappointment. As it is, the answer to the teaser question on the cover, "Would She Learn the Dead Man's SECRET?" is a disappointed "No".

In an afterword, Mr King generously says that he doesn't mind if you don't like the book. He may not mind, but under the circumstances I rather do. He also says that the credit or blame for the book should go to a friend of his. I think it should go to him and his publisher. It will take a lot of persuading before I give either of them any more of my money or time spent reading.

Posted: Sat - May 6, 2006 at 09:25   Main   Category: