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Onyx reviews: The Colorado Kid by Stephen King
When Hard Case Crime editor Charles Ardai contacted Stephen King, all he
hoped for was a blurb to draw attention to his new, critically acclaimed line of
hard-boiled paperback novels, both original and classic reprints. A big fan of
the genre, King decided he’d rather endorse them by supplying a book. The
Colorado Kid is the publisher’s lead title in a second-year lineup that
features Lawrence Block, Donald Hamilton, Ed McBain and Donald E. Westlake.
Ultimately, Ardai got his King blurb. “Hard Case Crime presents good,
clean, bare-knuckled storytelling, and even though The Colorado Kid is probably
more bleu than outright noir, I think it has some of those old-fashioned
kick-ass story-telling virtues. It ought to; this is where I started out, and I’m
pleased to be back.” King has published several crime short stories, and it’s
good to see him try his hand at a longer work in the genre.
The Colorado Kid explores a theme that has arisen in recent novels—the
unexplained mystery. The story is set in familiar King territory: an isolated
island off the Maine coast. Two veteran journalists from the Moose-Look Weekly
Islander, sixty-five-year-old Dave Bowie and ninety-year-old Vince Teague, have
just finished lunch with a Boston Globe reporter looking for material for his
series Unexplained Mysteries of New England. Bowie and Teague trotted out a
number of familiar old legends, but after the reporter leaves they enlighten
their young summer intern, Stephanie McCann.
For the two veterans do know a real unexplained mystery, but it’s not the
kind that would have satisfied the man from the Globe. It has too many unknown
elements and no “must’a-been”—an unproven but generally accepted
explanation for events. Besides, it’s their story and they don’t want anyone—especially
someone from off the island—to mess it up.
In 1980, two teenagers discovered a man’s body leaning against a trashcan
on the beach. That’s the whole story. How he got there is a mystery. Even the
cause and nature of his death are debatable. Though he’s eventually
identified, the more Dave and Vince learn in the ensuing years the less possible
it seems that the man they call the Colorado Kid could have ended up where he
The two newsmen take turns relating the story. They’ve become fond of
Stephanie, almost forgetting that she’s “from away,” which is a high
compliment. The Islander needs new blood, and their story needs a custodian.
They hope she will stay on at the end of her internship, and want to teach her
the value of knowing the right questions to ask while accepting that many won’t
The Colorado Kid may surprise readers expecting something Chandleresque,
because it’s more of a “cozy” than a hard-boiled novel. Other than its
brevity, the book isn’t a huge departure for King, though. He brings to it all
the characteristics that have made him popular—a strong narrative voice, an
intriguing story, and a trio of deftly created, charming protagonists. Even the
minor characters come to life. He makes readers despise two cops who ruined a
forensics intern’s career aspirations, and they’re only on-screen for a few
pages. It’s a mature, daring work, challenging readers’ expectations of what
story is—and what it isn’t.
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