Later

Later – Stephen King

Jamie can see dead people. No, we’re not talking about that Bruce Willis movie (he actually says this in the story). Jamie only sees those who’ve recently died and not for long either. For whatever reason, Jamie has found that the dead are unable to lie and must truthfully answer any question asked of them. But Jamie has to move quickly, because it isn’t long before they begin to fade away and venture onto whatever follows life on Earth.

Following the financial crash of 2008, the literary agency run by Jamie’s mother has hit rock bottom. Their misfortune is compounded by the fact that her agency’s star author whose book she had counted on to carry them through another year, died unexpectedly. In a last ditch effort to right the ship, Jamie is taken to the spot where the author had died so Jamie may get all the details on the book’s story and ending so that Jamie’s mother can finish it and publish it posthumously.

Getting wind of Jamie’s talents, an NYPD detective enlists (or forces) his help to track down an explosive left by a serial bomber after he had committed suicide when his identify had been uncovered by the authorities. Can Jamie find the culprit, locate the device in time, and save the day?

When I heard King had a new book coming in 2021 through Hard Case Crime, I was cautiously optimistic. Not only is Hard Case Crime one of my favorite publishers, King’s last effort through them was 2013’s Joyland; a novel I had loved. When I heard his new book would be under 300 pages, my interest then grew exponentially. Given that King is known for being long-winded and that his new stuff isn’t as good as his earlier work (there are a few exceptions with 11/22/63 and Revival coming to mind), I appreciated the opportunity to get something shorter from Uncle Stevie.

I enjoyed the premise and the novel was paced well. There were some great moments between Jamie and the recently departed. I loved that those who had passed took the form of their selves at the time of passing, so when a guy on a bicycle dies in a horrific traffic accident, Jamie has to see or communicate with a ghastly image. King’s on point here with gory descriptions of some of the specters Jamie comes into contact with.

All that said – and I hate myself for this – I think the premise is a bit wasted on such a short novel. There’s a moment near the middle of the story that left me with chills and although it’s such a short scene, maybe a page, it will stick with me long after I’ve put the book back on the shelf. It’s particularly moving and left me wanting more. I would have loved to have King truly sink his teeth into Jamie Conklin and his uncanny ability to talk to the dead. However, I’m not sure modern King could do that justice. If we could invent time travel, I’d love to head back to the 1970s and plant this idea in King’s head as I think it would fit well right alongside The Dead Zone and The Shining.

I thought that as a narrator, Jaime was pretty lame. I couldn’t help but laugh when he would start chapters with “Now, check this out” or “Dig this”. Who talks like that anymore? I’m also a little bit tired of King’s seemingly immense disgust of overweight people. It’s been a problem throughout all six decades of his work and when you’ve read as many of his stories as I have, it becomes distracting and borderline offensive. It’s always a villain or an unimportant side character he saddles with these deeply descriptive bodies, so never someone good or well-intentioned.

Complaints aside, Later is a good read from King that I devoured in just a few sittings. While I knew ahead of time something was coming, there’s a big connection to one of King’s earlier novels that slots this story into the wider King Universe. I thought this was handled really well. Obviously, I won’t reveal it for fear of spoiling it for others, but constant readers will be rewarded.

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