reviewed by Fiona Cook
Stephen King returns to his hard-boiled side with the release of Later, his third novel under the Hard Case Crime imprint. This is trademark King though, hard-boiled or not, and he’ll gladly remind you – as he says at the beginning, this is a horror story.
Jamie Conklin sees dead people. This is no Sixth Sense though, the dead won’t be mined for scares; instead, the skill and the ghosts are presented matter-of-factly, almost mundane in their everyday appearance. As much as I love his horror, Stephen King is at his best when writing his more observational fiction; his words here are so easy to read, pulling you into the story and lulling you into relaxation. Only, of course, for him to turn around and absolutely horrify you without breaking the spell his words have placed. It’s an effective tactic, one he’s had years to perfect, and it shows.
Later is one of King’s shorter novels – which is to say, about standard novel length. It feels like a faster read than it is, partially because of the aforementioned lulling effect, and partly because it takes almost no time to get completely absorbed into the story. Jamie is a narrator that had me on his side instantly. Considering he’s a six-year-old dealing with the burden of seeing the dead at the beginning of the story, that’s perhaps not surprising. As he grows, we’re taken with him as the people around him start to see that this just might be more than childish imagination.
It’s then that things start sliding down into that horror slope. In another vintage King move, constant readers might just notice that here is where they’ll find links to some of his other work. New readers won’t feel like they’re missing anything, this is subtle enough to fly under the radar, but it adds an extra dimension if you do notice.
Later is another excellent entry into Stephen King’s considerable library – one which should appeal to readers both new and old.
Editor’s Note: Later was selected as one of Mystery & Suspense Magazine’s best mysteries of 2021.
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