Later by Stephen King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
There are two things I like about King’s Hardcase crime novels: they’re short and cheap.
I appreciate the price given the premium that King’s novels carry these days, but even more I appreciate the length. These novels are short enough that you don’t get the usual pages of backstory, side plots, poetry or whatever King may decide to include and that no editor will touch. Instead, you just get a simple story, told directly and without flab.
In this case, Later is told from the perspective of 22-year-old Jamie “Champ” Conklin, who begins this story when he is around nine years old. Jamie and his literary agent mother live in New York, the father having disappeared and never being spoken of. Jamie’s childhood is fairly ordinary, save for one thing: he can see the recently dead (and yes, The Sixth Sense gets name-called). Jamie picks up a few things from the ex-living he encounters. They don’t hang around long. They don’t seem interested in the living. And they are compelled to answer any questions put to them truthfully. This becomes very important later (ho ho) in the story.
Without getting into spoilers, Jamie’s life becomes complicated when his mother meets up with a police officer and they start a relationship. The hard crime part of the story gets folded in here–there are killers on the loose, crimes committed and future crimes to be thwarted. In the middle of it all Jamie discovers that sometimes the recently dead don’t just fade away–that bad people can be inhabited by bad things. As they say, hijinks ensue.
King adopts a kind of patter for Jamie’s telling of the story, and it has a breezy feel to it, making it feel like it really is a still fairly young schmuck recounting some freaky things that happened to him as a kid.
The story is pretty straightforward and leads to an ending that is largely predictable, save a bit of a twist right at the end, but the journey there is full of King’s effortlessly believable characters and dotted with moments both funny and poignant. Later isn’t a deep red, but it’s a good one.
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Later by Stephen King