CriminOlly thinks: Derivative story about a boy who sees dead people feels like a rush job from the grand old man of modern horror. 2/5
Title: Later | Author: Stephen King | Publisher: Hard Case Crime | Pages: 264 | Publication date: 2nd March 2021 | Source: Self-purchased | Content warnings: Yes | Tolerance warning: No
I love the fact that Stephen King publishes books through Hard Case Crime. Compared to the houses that carry his other work, it’s a somewhat niche publisher and one (no surprise) that I really like. I also thought his last Hard Case book, ‘The Colorado Kid’ was really pretty great. A gentler, subtler more mysterious tale than a lot of his work and therefore a great fit for a smaller press. That brings me to ‘Later’, which is much more like the kind of book King is famous for with one exception. It isn’t very good.
The book is about a young boy, Jamie. He is the son of a single mom who’s a New York literary agent and he can see dead people. What’s more he can talk to them and they are compelled to tell him their secrets. This is a talent which, understandably, Jamie tries to keep to himself but which adults, namely his mother and her cop girlfriend, seek to exploit. So kind of a mash up of ‘Firestarter’ and ‘The Sixth Sense’, although to be fair to King he did at least write one of the things he’s borrowing from.
Like a lot of his books the actual plot ends up meandering quite wildly, with lots of events included that don’t really add a great deal. Mercifully this isn’t a 1000 page monster, but even at a fairly slim 250 pages it feels longer than it needs to be.
On the plus side, Jamie makes a very engaging narrator and King’s prose is always a pleasure to read. The story might not be up to much, but the telling of it is entertaining enough. It does pretty much all come together again for the finale, and the last 15% or so is genuinely gripping. Unfortunately, there’s a weird twist tacked on at the end which is unnecessary and frankly a bit icky. If someone other than King had written this I’d be giving it 2.5 stars and rounding up to 3. Given his proven talent this just feels lazy book, so I’m rounding down to 2.
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
Content Warning: Alcoholism, drug abuse, incest
Tolerance Warning: All good