Review by C.J. Bunce
Anyone who has ever been in journalism school has had one or more internships, maybe with a local newspaper or with a magazine, advertising agency, or public relations firm. Every intern is a target in one way or the other of the old-timers in the firm. The intern gets talked down to as a matter of rite. Usually at the end of the internship the intern gets sent along her merry way, and sometimes she gets an offer to stay on, usually at low pay. This is the world of Stephen King′s novel The Colorado Kid, delivered in King’s trademark nor’easter style of dialogue. A young woman from Ohio named Stephanie McCann is winding down her internship with The Weekly Islander, working for the “news staff,” a pair of guys who can’t seem to decide how long they’ve worked at the paper named Dave Bowie (no relation, to either) and Vince Teague. Another reporter, from The Boston Globe, is asking the men about unexplained mysteries in the area for a features story, around the year 2004. After he leaves, The Weekly Islander men proceed to tell Stephanie about a story they didn’t share with the Globe reporter, the unsolved mystery of The Colorado Kid, a man found dead against a trash can situated along a nearby beach back in 1980. In a spin on Twenty Questions, Stephanie gets to ask all the questions–to learn the clues and what investigation transpired so far in the crime–and they answer in a very verbose and dragged out way that only local yokels would normally have the patience to listen to. After years out of print, The Colorado Kid has been re-released by Hard Case Crime for the first time since the book was first published in 2005. In fact it’s the book that kicked off the imprint, and lighted the spark to make it the popular publisher of crime fiction that it is today. The first edition fetches a princely sum in the aftermarket, so the new paperback edition is a welcome event for crime genre readers.
Fans of King’s TV and film adaptations and Shawn Piller television series will recognize the novel as the impetus for the Syfy Channel series Haven (now streaming on Netflix) a show that also included Hard Case Crime’s Charles Ardai as a producer. Here’s what they have in common: The Colorado Kid is set in the Northeast, it featured newspapermen Dave and Vince, one of the local policemen was named Wuornos, and there’s a restaurant in town called The Grey Gull. I noted nothing else in common with the TV series, except a different story of the Kid (the series’ handling probably less satisfying than in the book). Ardai, in a 2019 foreword to the new edition, surmises that King may have chosen to wait this long to reprint the book to provide some distance from the series, so fans wouldn’t confuse the two. If you choose to take on The Colorado Kid–the novel–just don’t search for any supernatural twist or horror. There isn’t any and there isn’t supposed to be. It also doesn’t follow a mystery formula, but is more a folktale, a storyteller’s legend, something like the lost people of Roanoke (one of the mysteries that surfaces in the series).
If it sounds like I’m holding back some elements, it’s because some of the surprise worth holding back is in the bones of the tale (surprises like we found in the films Midnight Special, 10 Cloverfield Lane, and Split). With this story “the journey is the thing.” First, the possibilities raised in the story are probably better than the story. The Colorado Kid is a different type of tale, kicking aside all reader expectations–no matter what expectation you have coming into the story. It’s full of Stephen King’s Maine, the local oddballs are few here, but we get plenty of their anachronisms, their dialects, and colloquialisms from storytellers Dave and Vince. And as with the next Hard Case Crime book King would write, Joyland, it’s chock full of local charm (a more satisfying read, I reviewed Joyland as part of the official blog tour for the initial release here at borg in 2013). The Colorado Kid is another example of why King is a bestselling author–his newspapermen keep you immersed in their little office along with Stephanie for the entire ride. By book’s end you’ll more likely be ready to kill Dave and Vince for their quirks than the author for his… unorthodox… ending.
I can’t imagine King doesn’t have a solution for the crime, maybe one he’s kept close to his vest and kept out of the pages of the book. One major clue and finding-of-fact appears to me to more likely be a red herring that has either tripped up Dave and Vince this far, or they aren’t revealing it because they are closer to the story than they would care to admit. Some of their recollections are no doubt either faulty, misstatements, or complete fabrications on their part. The question is worth asking: How reliable are these two narrators? Usually an unreliable narrator has a “gotcha” waiting at the end, so don’t be misled: The Colorado Kid isn’t an unreliable narrator story either, at least not your typical one.
If you like stories like King’s The Body (aka Stand By Me), you’ll likely appreciate the prose in The Colorado Kid. If you enjoy reading for reading sake, and you’re a patient person, you might even love it. It’s definitely a genre book even if it’s not typical King supernatural or horror–it’s a crime noir story, akin to Call Northside 777.
In addition to the first edition, which sported cover art by Glen Orbik, the book saw a wide release internationally more than a decade ago, as seen in the above sample of cover art from around the world. The new edition features a great painted cover by Paul Mann, plus this is an “illustrated edition,” so look for interior art from Mann, Mark Summers, Mark Edward Geyer, and Kate Kelton. After you read the book, ask yourself whether the difference in cover text between Hard Case Crime’s two editions might have a hidden message, changing from “Would she learn the dead man’s secret?” to “Would they learn the dead man’s secret?”
It’s definitely a must-read for Stephen King fans who missed this book in 2005, especially fans of his book Joyland, and fans of Haven that loved Dave and Vince. Order The Colorado Kid now, available this month here at Amazon.