Review by C.J. Bunce
The Colorado Kid. Joyland. Later. My three favorite Stephen King novels have just been released in an attractive boxed set from publisher Titan Books’ imprint Hard Case Crime. These novels reflect Stephen King’s mystery side, as many of his fans have yet to explore. Each box includes three cards showing alternate covers from variant editions previously released. This is King at his best, writing nitty gritty crime stories filled with realistic characters encountering strange events. The Colorado Kid was the first of this era in King’s work, and would ultimately be adapted into the TV series Haven. Joyland, which we were able to preview here at borg back in 2013, is my favorite of the group, a story of a college student looking for a job in the summer of 1973, who finally lands a job at an amusement park. Later is King’s most recent novel. Incorporating the supernatural, King creates a new character with special powers, a young man drawn into a world of cops and crime. The boxed set includes the illustrated edition of The Colorado Kid. The Stephen King Complete Hard Case Crime Boxed Set is just out, available now here at Amazon and at bookstores everywhere.
In The Colorado Kid 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.
The Colorado Kid is the book that kicked off the Hard Case Crime imprint, and lighted the spark to make it the popular publisher of crime fiction that it is today. 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), on which Hard Case Crime’s Charles Ardai was a producer. With this story “the journey is the thing.” 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.
Joyland contains themes found in the innocence of Stand By Me (based on King’s novella The Body) and Silver Bullet (based on King’s novella Cycle of the Werewolf), the supernatural of The Green Mile (based on King’s serial novel of the same name), the Northeast U.S. town-life found in the TV series Haven (based on King’s The Colorado Kid), and The Dead Zone (based on King’s novel). King’s storytelling is very recognizable–you’d know his style anywhere. Joyland is a blend of true crime-type drama mixed with King’s signature violent/explicit/graphic accounts of not just the crime that is the focus of the story but the life of the protagonist. Yet it is also a coming of age story for the 20s set–written in a manner similar to classic middle grade and young adult works, like S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders and Tex, and even some of Judy Blume’s works.
Along with Joyland I was lucky to be able to share an advance review of Later just earlier this year. The novel is narrated by Jamie, a young man in his twenties, looking back on his discovery of his ability to see dead people, his interactions with his mother and only a few other people on rare occasion, and how this gift/burden forces him to face three critical life challenges, one which can help determine the course of his mother’s career and their life together, and others that relate to his relationship with his mother’s ex-girlfriend Liz, an aspiring but lackluster cop with her own set of personal problems. The novel is a perfect launch pad for a television series, a series that should be written and directed by Shawn Piller as a natural follow-up to the King-Piller partnership’s successful series Haven and The Dead Zone. The slow-simmering pacing reflects the perfect make-ready four season series centering on a boy burdened with an ability he cannot walk away from. Later easily could be the next Medium, Prodigal Son, or Tru Calling—just as dark, with a bit of Fallen thrown in.
Check out my full reviews of King’s The Colorado Kid here, Joyland here, and Later here. The Stephen King Complete Hard Case Crime Boxed Set includes the original 2013 edition of Joyland with the Glen Orbik cover and Robert McGinnis art card, the illustrated 2019 edition of The Colorado Kid with Paul Mann cover and Glen Orbik art card, and the illustrated 2021 edition of Later with Paul Mann cover and Gregory Manchess art card. Don’t miss it. Order The Stephen King Complete Hard Case Crime Boxed Set, available now here at Amazon.
C.J. Bunce / Editor / borg