Review: The Colorado Kid

3 stars
A mystery novel that doesn't take the time to find itself

Hard Case Crime books look like they must have traveled to the present day from the 1940s or 1950s. The publishing imprint founded in 2004 hearkens back to the golden age of the cheap hardboiled crime paperback novel, including a scantily clad babe on almost every cover of its catalog of over 100 titles.

The project owes much of its success to Stephen King, a longtime fan of pulp fiction. In 2005, King decided to publish The Colorado Kid under the still fledgling imprint, instantly drawing the attention of multitudes of constant readers.

As is typical for the genre (but not for the author), The Colorado Kid is a short book, coming in at just under 200 pages. It is set on a fictional island off the coast of Maine and takes place mostly in the offices of the island’s local paper.

Eliminating the impossible

Two veteran journalists, 90-year-old founder Vince Teague and 65-year-old managing editor Dave Bowie [sic], regale and put to the test their 22-year-old intern Stephanie McCann with the tale of the “kid”. The kid is in fact a 42-year-old man who was found dead on the beach decades earlier.

What first seems like a simple choking incident turns out to be a much stranger story. Simply put, the “kid” shouldn’t—couldn’t—have been there at all. Or could he? “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

The story provides clues but offers no resolution. That’s the point, and The Colorado Kid is as much about trying to capture a slice of island life as it is about the mystery of the “kid”.

The Verdict

King always knows how to keep a story moving, and I found the book an easy read during a short flight. But at the end of the day, The Colorado Kid doesn’t know what it wants to be. It’s not really a hardboiled crime story (not enough action), and it’s not bringing us close enough to these characters to care about them.

So far, King has published two more works under Hard Case Crime, Joyland (2013) and Later (2021). Both are much more entertaining than The Colorado Kid. Perhaps we owe much to this humble story for helping to kickstart a new era in pulp fiction—but that doesn’t mean you have to read it.