Tuesday, September 20, 2022

A Trip to King Country and The Colorado Kid by Stephen King

I think most readers at least sample Stephen King. From the ones that are supposed to be "high-brow" with their "literature" to the "casual reader," who just want a nice story. And the thing is that he works for pretty much everyone. I know that there's people out there that don't like his work. I just haven't met many and I'm sure they would all be those kinds of folks who "don't like horror." Well, here's one for them. A simple tale of a mysterious death. I was all aboard the Hard Case Crime train when "The Colorado Kid" came out, pretty much buying all of them as they came out and reading most of them as I got ahold of them. 

But I didn't read King's. I don't know why. I was fan, I mean I was fan from my teenage years when I spent a few months pouring through his early back catalog. He's nostalgia for me and a lot of people, capturing a bit of time in our life when horror movies and books were everything. Simple times of blood, gore, thrills, chills and shattering suspense. Salad days. The King books were in my house for as long as I can remember. My mother was a fan, so there they sat, fat little paperbacks with bold colors and dark black covers. Striking images that are lodged in my mind from way back as a child. Back when you wanted a little spookiness in your life, but the actual stuff was far TOO SCARY. 

Man, that monkey on the "Skeleton Crew" cover. Boy howdy, what a creepy little fucker.

It sort of boggles my mind I didn't read this sooner. Maybe it was that his newer stuff post-90's didn't really connect with me, maybe I didn't like that it was a mystery novel by the master of horror. Maybe I'm just an idiot. 

I am.

"The Colorado Kid" is a mystery novel. Well, it's a novel about the nature of mystery. About why people seek the mysterious in their life. The book takes place in Maine ('natch) and is about three reporters, two old men and one young woman and a mystery ('natch) within the framework of the novel. The titular "Colorado Kid" shows up under odd circumstances on a beach, a near impossible occurrence since we find out his only have hours to travel from Colorado to Maine. King throws curveball after curveball at you, solutions that mess up your reader's sleuthing and he probably likes the idea of you (the reader) scratching your head at the tale. 

As I said this is about WHY people try to figure things out. It's about the characters, like all of King's books, the characters are the draw, and the rest is just fine fun. Dave, Vince and Stephanie sit around and talk the whole book and that's why it's engaging. They are people you'd like to get some lobster rolls or a coffee with and bullshit. There's no action, there's not really much suspense and the murder happens "off screen" but it's a thrill-ride, nonetheless. 

In his afterward King says that this would be a divisive novel. I can see that, the "solution" which I won't spoil is either going to work for you or it's just not. But that's the nature of mystery. King's an institution. I imagine it's weird to be a man and an institution, but he does it with humor and grace. I enjoy hearing him speak as much as I do hearing his characters talk. If you take the novel as a long afternoon coffee with Mr. King, I think you'll enjoy it more.

I haven't read the other two Hard Case Crime King books; they seem to lean into his more usual territory i.e., spooky shit. But that won't stop me from trying them out. This one was pleasant little trip into King Country, man, it's nice to be able to read a Stephen King in a couple of hours. That doesn't come around much. 

Friday, September 16, 2022

QUICK SHOTS: To Kill a Dead Man by Charles Runyon

Charles Runyon is one of those authors I had been meaning to read for, I don't know, ten plus years. I never seemed to luck into any of his books but in the sphere of Gold Medal Paperbacks a lot of people praised his work, so I was always on the lookout. Luck struck at the local libraries book sale where I scooped up a lot of his Gold Medals and this Major release. Runyon seems to be more remembered for his work in science fiction and that seemed to be what he preferred. Knocking off the crime stuff for the cash. Sounds criminal.

I got a soft spot for Major books. They aren't usually for everyone. There's a lot of weird and funky sometimes not-quite good books honestly. This isn't one of them. This is a rock-solid crime novel. Boy howdy, I know it was for the cash, but Runyon did lay down the good. Makes me wonder how it landed at such a low-tier publisher. It's easily better than a lot of what Fawcett put out in the 70's or Dell or Pyramid or Popular Library. Maybe it was just too hard-boiled, because this is rough and tumble book. At first glance it seemed like it could have easily been in the 50s-60s run of Gold Medals. But then it hits some lurid twists that are right out the 70s-era paperback. 

Johnny Quill is the right-hand man/paid killer for a mob guy named Fabius. It starts with that old gem: someone who needs to die has their buried treasure and the villains want it. Quill is sent to kill 'em good. But quickly transforms in an "on-the-run" book once he meets Norma the dead man's woman. Then it's a siege novel on a small tropical island. All the while Quill proves that he's a hard-man. We're talking Earl Drake or Parker hard. He doesn't hesitate to survive and doesn't much think about what he's had to do, i.e., murder of the innocent. His relationship with Norma is the center of the book and it's one not of conventional "love" but passion, boredom, necessity and eventually a recognition that she's as much of a survivor as he is. 

Oh, and there's a bunch of action. The siege is compelling and well thought out. Quill goes around killing and collecting an armory like he's in a video game as Fabius and his boatload of goons waits offshore and send waves of reinforcements. Both trying to figure out how to get to what is SO close but nearly impossible to get to kill their troubles away. Fabius is a sick and slick villain who's smart and taught Quill everything he knows; they spend much of the book at loggerheads because they are too similar in nature.

This one NEEDS to be republished. If it was published by a bigger company, I'm sure it'd have a little cult following, instead of being a footnote and outlier in Runyons bibliography. If you like Drake, Parker or Quarry, seek this one out.