Monday, September 7, 2009

The Colorado Kid by Stephen King (Hard Case Crime)

Since September 2009 marks the fifth anniversary of Hard Case Crime, I will be reprinting my reviews of the first 40 books from my old (and now mostly defunct) Craig's Book Club site — 2 for the first 10 days, and 1 a day for the next 20. I hope you enjoy this refresher course in the variety of crime fiction that this fascinating publisher has to offer.

Author Stephen King's entry in the Hard Case Crime series of pulp novels hardly fits into the style of the previous books at all. And it's likely to be a divisive entry with its love-it-or-hate-it conclusion. It's not that The Colorado Kid is bad, per se; it just doesn't play fair.

The plot consists primarily of a conversation between two aging newspaper editors — on an island off the coast of King's beloved Maine — telling their young ingenue, Stephanie, about the mysterious appearance of a dead man, found by two high school sweethearts (one of whom is the current mayor) back in the spring of 1980. A reporter from the Boston Globe tried to get the information from them for his series of unexplained mysteries and failed.

The two editors (one of whom is improbably named David Bowie!) take turns passing on bits of information in a mystery style that ultimately goes nowhere. But King has bigger fish to fry (certainly different from the ones contained in the fish-and-chips platter the mystery man, nicknamed The Colorado Kid until his identity was discovered, did or did not eat that night at 5:30 p.m.).

Even though it will likely be the publisher's biggest seller by a long shot, purely based on the reputation of the author, The Colorado Kid is one of Hard Case Crime's lesser releases. It doesn't even compare well to the rest of King's work. Feeling a lot like a short story padded out to 180 pages, it is loaded with the sort of folksy ramblings that authors like to try to mimic, only these prove to be just so much cornstarch in the cocaine.

But it's hard to fault the Hard Case folk. After all, who would pass up the opportunity to publish a Stephen King novel? Not me, certainly — not even one with a plot as flimsy as this one (and one that doesn't even show its face for fifty-plus pages). No, you can't even say that the lack of editing is a problem, truly. This is simply a portrait of King at his most raw, with all his quirks present in sharp relief. That the fine cover painting (by Glen Orbik, also the artist of Hard Case Crime's Branded Woman) has little or nothing to do with the story, and is sexy for the sake of being sexy (not that that's a bad thing!) is simply part of the fun.

But, despite all my complaints about The Colorado Kid, I have to say that I kept turning the pages, and I was sucked (and suckered) all the way to the non-ending. King's flowing style is here in full force, and this is one that can be read in a single sitting. Fans of the author will no doubt flock to the bookstores to pick up this slim and engaging read (replete with King's signature Maine colloquialisms peppered throughout), but many will then (as King expects and encourages in his Afterword) subsequently write him nasty letters. Consider this mine.


Randy Johnson said...

I was mightily disappointed here. Some sort of resolution should have been there. It was like he'd just stopped writing, then tidied it up a bit at the end.
I rank it among his worst. Which, considering the company, is not a shining endorsement.

Craig Clarke said...

Yeah, it was definitely one of those books that was published because the author was who he was. Though, I have to say, put in the same position, I would publish it, too.

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