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Author Topic: Book report  (Read 3387 times)

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Book report
« on: January 21, 2007, 03:07:10 PM »

Long ago, Sister Mary Madonna was our school librarian, not so much due to calling nor training but because she suffered from narcolepsy.  When Sister slumped asleep several times a day, girls assigned to library help would verify Sister’s vital signs, make her comfortable, and guard against wags who might place a cigarette between the sweet little nun’s lips and snap Polaroids. 

Our junior high library doubled as detention, where absolute silence prevailed.  Quiet wasn’t enforced so Sister Madonna could nap in peace, as incoming mortar fire would not have stirred a leaden eyelash.  Our principal’s office was just next door, and Sister Mary Blaise was well named, from a formidable order dealing daily with the incarcerated – Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth.  I felt positive our punishment tours were a form of highly sophisticated correctional torture.  Demanding a type of inhumane cruelty known as complete sentences, we were intimidated with thinly veiled threats of longer purgatory to write book reports – a minimum of seven paragraphs in strict succession devoted to title, author, characters, plot, setting, style, and theme.  Like the order and form of the rosary, I never dared change it:

My book report discusses The Colorado Kid, a novella of approximately 40,000 words published by Hard Case Crime.

The Colorado Kid is by Stephen King, one of the most popular horror and science fiction writers of our time.  Due to the publisher, many fans may fear King strayed outside his usual genre.  In the author’s own words, readers will like it or hate it, and his thoughts are “for many people there’ll be no middle ground on this one.”  I agree.  As an avid reader of mysteries, I found the book the best mystery treat in a long, long while.

The main characters are two elderly newspapermen and an intern reporter, a young woman fresh from journalism school.  None of the trio are the Colorado Kid, whose identity is part of the unfolding mystery.  Other characters are situational. 

Action does not rise at a brisk pace.  A slowly unfolding plot may be one reason some contemporary mystery fans dislike The Colorado Kid.  But those with good suspension of disbelief, those who trust the master storyteller, will be rewarded.  King doesn’t tell us Vincent Teague, owner-publisher of The Weekly Islander, and David Bowie, the little newspaper’s managing editor, are first-rate detectives – he shows us with artful scenes of logic and sleuthing on seemingly unrelated subjects.  Nobody dies in the first chapters.  No thrilling crime takes place.  In fact, there’s no crime at all.  The book jacket depicts a buxom, leggy, brunette beauty with a reporter’s cassette recorder, but the cover girl isn’t Stephanie McCann, the intern.  We’re told a visiting Boston Globe reporter “. . . hardly noticed the young woman sitting between the two old men at all.”  Yet we discover the thrill of mystery along with Steffi.

The Weekly Islander is a fictional newspaper published on fictional Moose-Lookit Island in the non-fictional North Atlantic off the coast of non-fictional Maine.  The time frame is contemporary 2005, and the mystery is an unsolved cold case dating back to the spring of 1980 when the present village mayor and his girlfriend were teens and discovered a dead body sitting on the sand of Hammock Beach.

King wrote The Colorado Kid in third-person, limited omniscient point-of-view.  Each of the eighteen chapters is narrated “in the presence” of Steffi McCann, although the style is not strictly from “inside her head.”  Rather, she’s a co-observer with the reader.  King builds our confidence in the honesty and inquiry skills of Vince and Dave, who never solve the mystery.  However, we the readers and Steffi learn everything the newspapermen have deduced about the “non-crime” from official reports and witnesses over the years.  In the end, a lone, seemingly unrelated news item posted on the office bulletin board is revealed to us through Steffi’s carefully honed reporter’s skills, but we are never told the conclusion.  The possible solution is only shown to us.

The theme is that a hero may sometimes go unsung.  Warning!  Solution revealed!  Do not read further if you plan to enjoy The Colorado Kid as much as I did.  Read the book and return here with your own opinion.  The crime is the victimless one of suicide.  A secondary crime may be that of insurance fraud.  The tertiary crime is abduction by aliens.  We have all the facts necessary to make the deductive leap that James Cogan, the Colorado Kid, was in the process of being abducted by aliens.  His wife Arla and son Michael in Colorado would have been left destitute, with nothing except the pain of yet another mysterious disappearance.  James Cogan managed to evade alien detection long enough to purchase life insurance, to make certain his body would be found and traced back to his family, and to kill himself in such a manner that his demise would be declared “death by misadventure.”  Thus, the insurance company would pay the selfless man's wife and son.  As all excellent mysteries, subsequent readings were even more enjoyable.

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