Even average Stephen King is worth reading. I'd call The Colorado Kid
, a short novel (almost a novella) a notch above average, maybe 3.5 stars.
It's not really a "hard-boiled" mystery, though, and I don't know why it's labeled as such. That sultry dame on the cover is pretty misleading; the story is actually an unsolved murder being related to a young reporter working on a small tourist island newspaper in Maine by two old-timers who've been living there and reporting for the paper since forever.
There are two stories here; one is the human interaction between the old-timers and their young protege as they discuss fine nuances of human behavior wrapped in small mysteries, everything from why they didn't leave a tip on the table for a hard-working waitress to why they don't tell the big city reporter working on a series for a Boston paper about any of the real
mysteries they know about, and stick to old unsolved ones everyone knows about like the mysterious coast lights and the poisoned church picnic. King has always been good at inserting little bits of human mystery like this into his stories.
The second story, the one The Colorado Kid
is really about, is that of a man from Colorado who was found dead on this Maine island back in 1980. As the two journalists tell the tale, more and more odd details surface, and as they try to work through answers to each one, the case becomes stranger and stranger.
The thing is, The Colorado Kid
is actually a bit of a meta-story, and appreciating it requires knowing a little bit about Stephen King. Like the fact that in recent years he's been connecting all of his fiction loosely together in a self-referential manner.
Consider a supernatural thriller with inhuman creatures, magic, aliens, or whatever, operating in secret. Imagine the collateral damage these stories leave lying around: dead bodies, burned down buildings, unexplained holes in the ground. What happens when "mundanes" come across the aftermath of such incidents? They have no idea about parallel dimensions or battles between good and evil, they just know there's a dead body lying here and they have no idea how it got there or how he died. They try to piece together the clues, but there are holes in any story they come up with, because even if they are open-minded enough to consider the paranormal, they can't know the whole truth.
This story is kind of like getting a peek at a mystery like that. If you take it at face value, it's just an odd tale about an unsolved death. If you think about all the other King you've read, you say, "Damn, some shit went down here, and these people just have no clue..."