Writing a mystery with no solution is an easy thing to do. All you need is some inscrutable pieces of information and no way for a reader, or the characters, to be able to piece the whole thing together in a way that brings satisfaction. Bad writers do this kind of thing all the time and try to pass it off as enigmatic. It takes a master to write a mystery with no solution and still make the journey feel worthwhile to the reader. That is what Stephen King has done with The Colorado Kid.
Steffi is a summer intern at a small newspaper on an island off the coast of Maine. She works with Dave and Vince, the senior editors in both position and age with Vince the most senior at the salty age of 90. One August afternoon Dave and Vince tell Steffi the strange tale of a dead man found on a nearby beach in 1980. How the corpse came to be called The Colorado Kid and all of the bizarre twists and turns are revealed as the story unfurls, firing up Steffi – and the reader’s – imagination to solve the unsolvable mystery.
With that description I’m sure you think that the ultimate resolution is a tidy one. After all, why read a mystery that has no ending? Vince and Dave tell Steffi (and the reader) several times throughout the story not to look for a resolution because there isn’t one. There is just a series of strange and somewhat disquieting events that may add up to something sinister, than again may not. The dead man is found sitting up on a park bench by a pair of teenagers on an early morning run. A pack of cigarettes in his pocket, one smoked. No ID. No wallet. A single Russian coin. No evidence of foul play. And the story gets stranger from there.
While reading the book I described the mystery, after a night of unsettling dreams, as being like a sore in your mouth you can’t keep your tongue away from. 20 pages later Vince describes the mystery as being like a toothache you can’t keep your tongue away from. So whatever wavelength King was writing on seems to be the same one that I read it on.
The only way to review and consider a story with no ending is if the journey itself was worth investing the time. In the case of The Colorado Kid I have to say that it is. Steffi, Dave, and Vince are enjoyable to spend time with over the course of that long afternoon in which Dave and Vince tell their tale. The book is really about the value of a mystery and why some are important to keep private. Its about being invited to the inner circle, a sense of belonging that is imparted on Steffi by the 2 older men. You have a sense when the book is over that this afternoon was likely one of the most formative of Steffi’s life.
The one negative I have to say, and I think working with his son Joe Hill has helped here, is King no longer has any idea how to write dialogue for young characters. Steffi is 22 and sounds like she’s about 60. He had the same problem in Doctor Sleep, which came out pretty close after The Colorado Kid. His distinctive voice is still present but everyone kind of talks the same now regardless of age. It’s jarring and comes across as artificial at times and I hope he’s worked out the kinks in the machine because he used to be wonderful at capturing childhood and teenagers. Hopefully he can get it back, if he hasn’t already.