Review: Later by Stephen King

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Buy it here: Amazon, Bookshop

Synopsis:

#1 bestselling author Stephen King returns with a brand-new novel about the secrets we keep buried and the cost of unearthing them.

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 ITLater is a powerful, haunting, unforgettable exploration of what it takes to stand up to evil in all the faces it wears.

Review:

Stephen King. What is there to really say about his work? He is a prolific writer who has done more for the horror genre than most anyone else. He has fans, followers and those who only read his works. He has legions of devout fans that eat up every word he writes and can see no wrong. And then you have the rest of us. 

I enjoy Later, his third novel for the Hard Case Crime imprint (and those three books affords HCC to really put out some great pulp fiction reprints by Lawrence Block, Donald Westlake, Max Allen Collins, and new originals that might not find publication elsewhere). The story is about Jamie Conklin and his growing up seeing dead people. This ability is exploited by those who know about it, and the novel does become part mystery and part horror. The King hallmarks are all here. The kid befriends an elderly gentleman, the pop culture references are older than the characters, and some of the turns at humor are just bad. But compared to his last few books, Later feels like he is enjoying the writing. There have been a few of his books and stories lately that feel like he is mailing it in, giving the fans something to read but nothing that will increase his legacy. He has not written anything very memorable in a decade (I’m using 11/22/63 as really his last standout work), but Later seems to be on the right track. He uses a shorter form (or typical novel length) to really tell a great story. 

The book reads fast, and it is easy to get sucked into the plot. Jamie is a typical King kid so you want to root for him, especially since he is surrounded by people who want to use his powers for their own gains. He does whatever he can to make the grownups like him because he wants them to be proud of him or he does not want to get hurt.

There is something to be said about this type of horror, the type that King writes. There is a fear in people hurting and exploiting kids. He has repeated this device in the last few books (Outsider, The Institute, “Mr. Harrigan’s Phone”) and it makes sense because the scariest thing for most of his fans, who are now old enough to have kids, is to threaten harm against them. This is why we get so stuck in this book. Jamie is only six when he starts to notice the dead people, and from then until his late teens (when we are not as frightened because kids can theoretically start to defend themselves) people use his powers for their own advantages. We do not want anything harmful to happen to him, but we can also see, as adults, that the adults around him are up to no good. This makes Later an affective story. King knows that we want the kid to be safe so he puts the kid in peril. 

Compared to his last few books, I enjoy this one much more. There are still flaws and Kingisms that I find irritating (like the final reveal in the last few pages is not needed and nonsense), but as a whole, this is a solid book that I will recommend before some of his other current works.

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