The Colorado Kid by Stephen King

I would like to thank Lydia from Titan for an advance copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review

Publisher – Titan

Price - £7.99 paperback

Published – 2nd July

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 turn up any clues, and its more than a year before the man is identified.

And 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?

What’s the best type of mystery? The one you can solve or the one without an answer? In crime novels there is a tendency to love the logical deduction where the detectives go on to narrow down the suspects to just one culprit and motive in a mainly linear fashion. We also like the mysteries such as the Marie Celeste where the missing crew seems to have so many options as to why the crew vanished from storms, aliens or pirates – its tantalising as there is just that missing piece that will show us EVERYTHING. However, in this novel (published in the UK for the first time by Titan) Stephen King provides a slightly different much more maddening mystery which proves that sometimes the journey for the reader may be the most important part of a story.

Stephanie McCann is a young journalist currently working for a few months at The Weekly islander a paper that serves a largish island off Maine in the US. Her two (and only) companions on the paper are the elderly Vince Teague and David Bowie (no not that one!) these two men have been behind the paper for decades. A chance chat with a mainland journalist over unsolved mysteries seems to peter out but once he goes off the island with tail between his legs then Stephanie realises the two journalists do actually have a mystery they feel they can never share with national papers because it a mystery with too many mysteries – not just one factor like a missing crew but a whole host of unknowns. Stephanie sits in front of her mentors as they tell her the events of 1980 when a dead man is found on the beach and the search for over a year to find out who he was and why was he on the beach.

I think its fair to warn you dear reader this mystery is not solved by the end. There is no sudden explanation for the entire events that unfold. This may be maddening if you’re a crime fan used to that standard path of logic but I think possibly as I’m more used to King’s horror tales where sometimes things just happen and it’s the character who just has to try and ride the storm that that didn’t really bother me. This is very much about how the story is told rather than how it all pieces together like clockwork.  This is a real demonstration of King’s ability to tell a story that actually you want to sit down like Stephanie and enjoy the ride into the past.

A huge factor in this is the double act of Vine and Dave. They’re very quickly set up in the preamble to the story as a little quirky; a double act that can finish each other’s lines (and jokes) and most of all sharp as a tack when it comes to understanding people.  They have that tone you could easily imagine in a forties film about journalists with a slight tendency towards hyperbole and local slang. Hugely engaging and as the story opens up they paint all the characters (and as per usual with King I find he can make each character from the jock who one day becomes a mayor or the forensics student looked down upon by idle detectives) come alive in their own right. For a relatively slight novel you really get a feel for the place and the people this island is.

The other element that makes this tick along is the build up of tension. Its not a simple flashback; King has peppered the tale with little inside and queries as Stephanie herself tries to solve the puzzle or slight breaks for refreshments just before a teaser of another revelation about the case from the discovery of the body; identifying the cause of death and then the battle to find out who the man to be known as the Colorado Kid really was. This eventually erupts into the one last revelation that just oh so slightly hints at something eerie but could also be rationally explained – a tale with plenty to take a bite out of but not necessarily have something to chew. I like that level of ambiguity, but I also think King manages to avoid appearing too conceited by also throwing in a lot of human emotion.

Throughout the story we are given little insights into these characters actually being people with lives from a waitress trying to make ends meet to a grieving relative. There is a reminder for Stephanie and ourselves that news stories are always about real people and a mystery sometimes doesn’t justify the desire to hunt the story down.  This new UK edition is also illustrated by Mark Edward Geyer, Paul Mann, Kate Kelton and Mark Summers who give us a mix of dramatic crime pics and a few tributes to the crime novels of the past (just look at that cover by Mann!)

This isn’t one of King’s horror stories but does contain a lot of suspense, it instead shows the author who also wrote Mr Mercedes and The Shawshank Redemption where the crime genre gets mined without hardly any supernatural touches. Think of this as King in a hard-boiled crime tale but with a flair and an unusual premise that I think makes it stand out as the type of story you’ll want to grab with two hands– probably devour in one sitting - and then try to solve it…. forever. A really impressive demonstration of how King is one of the best storytellers around.