‘The Colorado Kid’ by Stephen King – not a book you can judge by its covers.

I enjoyed ‘The Colorado Kid’ for its bravery as much as its content. This is not the book that either of its covers suggest that it’s going to be. The publisher’s summary also did nothing to prepare me for the book I was going to read. Here’s the pitch it makes:

“On an island off the coast of Maine, a man is found dead. There’s no identification on the body. Only the dogged work of a pair of local newspapermen and a graduate student in forensics turns up any clues.

But that’s just the beginning of the mystery. Because the more they learn about the man and the baffling circumstances of his death, the less they understand. Was it an impossible crime? Or something stranger still…?”

The covers and the publisher’s pitch all have one thing in common: they offer the prospect of a dramatic story. A mystery set on an island. An unknown man found dead on a beach. A young reporter eager to solve the mystery and give the story a beginning, a middle and an end and possibly add a little sex appeal along the way.

The book Stephen King has written is nothing like that. ‘The Colorado Kid’ is almost an essay on what it is that defines a mystery, the demands that our imaginations make for recognisable stories and the gap between storying telling and factual descriptions of complexly connected, non-linear, real-life events. Of course, it’s an essay delivered by a master showman who knows how to lead readers on and make them eager for the next page.

I can best give you a feel for the tone of the book by telling you that the first, not particularly short, chapter is mostly spent on a nonagenarian editor of a local newspaper getting his young, female intern to figure out why the editor has pocketed the dollars that their lunch guest, a reporter from the Boston Globe, had left on the table to pay for everyone’s lunch. It’s a really good chapter. It locates the story in a time and place, starts to build the main characters and to display their relationship to one another and it gently prepares the reader for an almost Socratic discourse on the nature of a mystery.

And there is a mystery and it’s a good one. There’s the dramatic discovery of an unknown dead guy on a beach. We don’t know who he is, how he died or even why he was there at all. There’s a charmingly oblique disclosure of how the investigation into the man and the circumstances of his death was carried out and we learn many interesting things, most of which deepen the mystery rather than resolving it.

But the mystery is not the driving force of the novel. It’s more in the way of a worked example that is being used to provide teaching moments to the young intern journalist.

And the focus of the lesson?

That a mystery isn’t a mystery if it’s solved. Which means mysteries make poor stories because stories need a beginning, a middle and an end and they need narratives and characters that we recognise and can empathise with. Stories need to be made of components that allow the reader to assemble a sort of gestalt version of the narrative in their head as each new player or piece of information is introduced. Stories are satisfying. Mysteries that stay mysteries are frustrating. Good reporters love to dive down rabbit holes in search of whatever information there is to find about a mystery but finding everything there is to know doesn’t mean that they’ll end up with a story they can publish.

And that’s about it.

Apart from some great dialogue, some dry humour, some beautifully drawn characters and a strong sense of place, there’s nothing much more to ‘The Colorado Kid’.

I thought listening to Jeffrey DeMunn read ‘The Colorado Kid’ was a wonderful way to spend an afternoon. Your experience may vary.

Click on the SoundCloud link below and decide if this is your kind of thing.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s