Book: “Later” by Stephen King
Publishing Info: Hard Case Crime, March 2021
Where Did I Get This Book: The library!
Book Description: The son of a struggling single mother, Jamie Conklin just wants an ordinary childhood. But Jamie is no ordinary child. Born with an unnatural ability his mom urges him to keep secret, Jamie can see what no one else can see and learn what no one else can learn. But the cost of using this ability is higher than Jamie can imagine – as he discovers when an NYPD detective draws him into the pursuit of a killer who has threatened to strike from beyond the grave.
Later is Stephen King at his finest, a terrifying and touching story of innocence lost and the trials that test our sense of right and wrong. With echoes of King’s classic novel IT, Later is a powerful, haunting, unforgettable exploration of what it takes to stand up to evil in all the faces it wears.
Review: I’ve spent twenty plus years of my life reading Stephen King, and I imagine that I will keep on going for another however many years he continues to write. He rarely lets me down (even when I come across the occasional clunker I still feel like it was generally worth my time), and it’s even MORE exciting when he tries out other genres beyond his usual horror fare. This brings us to “Later”, his most recent work and also his most recent title he’s done with Hard Case Crime, an imprint which tends to focus on gritty crime fiction. Hey, sign me up regardless, but one thing that I can count on when it comes to King is that he is probably going to throw SOME kind of supernatural spin into most of his books. “Later” is no exception, and King melds the hard boiled crime and supernatural horror paths seamlessly.
“Later” is a fast paced crime tale told through the perspective of Jamie Conklin, a young man who has had the ability to see and speak to ghosts ever since he was a kid. This story focuses on his youth, from how he first realized he had this power (told in a gruesome scene involving a dead bicyclist), to how his power scared but also helped his single mother Tia, to how it was exploited by Liz, Tia’s onetime girlfriend and NYPD detective. King has always had a true talent for capturing the minds and personalities of kids, and while narrator Jamie is an adult, the story is his childhood, and boy does it feel realistic in its voice. Like other kids in King’s works, Jamie is slightly precocious but not too forced, and his childhood interactions with his mother, his friends, and the ghosts that he sees range from the charming to the heartbreaking to the terrifying. I’m a true sucker for any story that has to do with people who can speak to the dead, and Jamie’s story really hit all of the notes that I like in this trope. I also liked how we get to know Tia through Jamie’s eyes, with King throwing in enough details about her that their relationship is well thought out and quite lovely. Our antagonists, primarily Liz and a spectre named Therriault (maybe a sly reference to Roch Thériault? SUPER creepy if so!), are menacing in their own ways. For Therriault it’s the obvious, being a malevolent spirit that has started to harass Jamie whose stalking and description will surely send chills up anyone’s spine. But Liz is far more insidious, as she is a corrupt cop who uses her power, her charm, and her authority to manipulate, and hurt, those around her. Her renegade nature could have been used to prop her up as an anti-hero, as some hard boiled detective stories do. But King just shows us what so many of these ‘renegade’ cops are: super, super dangerous.
And as we’ve learned, King has a real delight in calling back to some of his previous works (and also the works of his son, Joe Hill, those easter eggs are especially fun to spot). For some people this may seem hokey, but I eat it up and revel in it whenever it happens. And this time, King pulls out a heavy hitter, one that I didn’t expect from a story that has been published with a crime imprint. SPOILER ALERT HERE!!! Skip to the last paragraph if you don’t want to know! I won’t go into TOO much detail, but if you know, you know (and thanks to a certain recent film franchise, you probably know): One of the characters asks Jamie if he’s ever heard of something called “The Ritual of Chüd”. THIS IS IN THE “IT” UNIVERSE, FOLKS!!!
Like I said, I don’t want to give too much away, but King takes a concept that feels like it couldn’t work outside of “It”, and applies it to this story without it feeling too forced or hackneyed. I mean, he made a revisit to “It” work in “11/22/63”, so I shouldn’t be surprised that he made it work here as well. And none of this is to say that you have to have read “It” for this entire aspect to work. You don’t. King gets you caught up to speed quickly, and it feels like its own thing in these pages. It totally works.
If there is a qualm I had with this book, there is a quick curveball thrown in at the end that made me go ‘wait, WHAT?’. It doesn’t derail anything or totally throw the entire story out of whack, but it was a momentary blip that felt unnecessary. Superfluous may be the better word. But overall, I found “Later” to be enjoyable and unsettling. For a fast read with a kid who can talk to ghosts, this is the book to check out!
Rating 8: A fast paced and at times very creepy thriller, “Later” has a hard boiled feel to it while harkening back to one of King’s most beloved stories.