Review by C.J. Bunce
In many ways Stephen King’s new supernatural crime novel Later is a natural follow-on to his two earlier Hard Case Crime novels, Joyland, which I loved, and The Colorado Kid, which will have me revisiting it for years to identify what I am sure is a hidden story beneath the obvious one. Joyland follows a coming of age vibe for an older character and King pulls from a similar quiver of creepiness in Later as he did for The Colorado Kid. Yes, Later will get the obvious comparison to the “I see dead people” kid from The Sixth Sense–a few updates and this could be its sequel, one as good or better than that great M. Night Shyamalan shocker (a character even calls out the comparison, and King doesn’t try to shy away from it). But even more than that, this story is a perfect launch pad for a television series, a series that should be written and directed by Shawn Piller as a natural follow-up to the King-Piller partnership’s successful series Haven and The Dead Zone. The slow-simmering pacing reflects the perfect make-ready four season series centering on a boy burdened with an ability he cannot walk away from. Later easily could be the next Medium, Prodigal Son, or Tru Calling—just as dark, with a bit of Fallen thrown in. It’s a highly recommended read, available for pre-order now here at Amazon, scheduled for release March 2.
Yes, nine-year-old narrator Jamie Conklin sees dead people, and he tells us–warns us–upfront to expect a horror story. King follows the rules of ghosts you’d find in a movie like Ghost or The Sixth Sense, and offers up some rules all his own. Ghosts usually can’t touch or physically interact with the living (but there are exceptions). Ghosts appear just as they did when they expired (an unfortunate thing for Jamie, especially when he encounters accident and murder victims). His ghosts only linger no more than a few hours following their deaths. And they must tell the truth if you ask them a question.
The tale is told by Jamie in his twenties, looking back on his discovery of his ability, his interactions with his mother and only a few other people on rare occasion, and how this gift/burden forces him to face three critical life challenges, one which can help determine the course of his mother’s career and their life together, and others that relate to his relationship with his mother’s ex-girlfriend Liz, an aspiring but lackluster cop with her own set of personal problems.
It’s Liz who we see with Jamie in Paul Mann’s nicely painted cover artwork. The duo has their own strange chemistry–not what you’d think–the kind of team-up a TV adaptation could stretch into an entire season without a lot of effort. It’s that brand of supernatural ghost story hook (again, like Medium, The Dead Zone, and Tru Calling, also similar to pulling in Liv Moore for her abilities to solve cases in iZombie) that crosses over into the superhero realm. Which begs the age-old superhero question: If you had superpowers, how would you use them, for good or bad?
But take the kid’s warning–the darkness and horrors are like Guillermo del Toro’s gothic story Crimson Peak, and when King goes over the top in his climactic scenes, he does it with a Quentin Tarantino-esque flourish and Phantom of the Opera-tic flare. One of my few complaints is why the setting needs to be New York City again–the U.S. has 20,000 cities, yet every other new novel is set in NYC. How about a new, more interesting venue?
Read the introduction to the novel here at the Hard Case Crime website. A limited hardcover edition of this book will be published by Titan Books (2,900 copies), available March 30, in three editions: a lettered edition (26 copies), numbered edition (374 copies), and an unsigned edition (2,500 copies)–This version features two exclusive covers painted by Gregory Manchess, each on its own separate dustjacket (the bonus jacket is a mock-up cover of The Secret of Roanoke by Regis Thomas (below), a novel that features in the plot of Later). The hardcover edition also includes eight original exclusive black and white illustrations by artist Rob Gale (see three of them above). The paperback edition will follow Hard Case Crime’s standard yellow ribbon trade paperback format.
Stephen King’s sharply developed characters, steady incorporation of supernatural elements, and building suspense, make for another great read you’ll probably devour in one sitting. Later is coming to bookstores and online retailers in March 2021, and it is now available for pre-order here at Amazon, with the audio book read by Seth Numrich available for order here. Hopefully someone will grab the TV rights to the book soon, too.