The prolific horror writer returns with the tale of Jamie, a 13-year-old boy who can see the dead. This questionable gift comes in handy when Jamie's literary-agent mother needs the help of a deceased author to stay in business; but it's a liability when his mother's love interest, an NYPD detective, convinces Jamie to help her stop a mass bomber.
Does anybody write kids-with-strange-powers better than Stephen King? And, is there anyone on the scene who has more insider knowledge of the publishing industry? Later, King’s third Hard Case Crime installment, threads both of these into a single short novel that packs a punch ... King’s writing in “Later” is as clean, direct and evocative as it’s ever been. The short, to-the-point chapters make for quick reading, the crime-driven plot is propulsive, involving guns, drugs, bombs and kidnapping, but, more importantly, some of the lines just take your breath away. Skin 'pebbles' with goose bumps. A dead person confronting Jamie is 'like a burned log with fire still inside.' But crawling into the head and voice and life of this kid narrator is where King especially excels.
King weaves a story of adolescence with a sweetness at its heart—the touching and genuine relationship between Jamie and Tia. Therein lies the book’s strength. King captures in dialogue and description a sense of closeness, the specialness of those key years between childhood and teens, when your mom can be not just your parent but also your best friend and hero ... But this strength is also a liability. Despite its early assurance to the contrary, Later is like that movie with Bruce Willis. Beyond the superficial similarities (sensitive kid, single mother, talking to dead people), the emotional core of King’s story—in particular, the parent-child relationship at its center—is also reminiscent of M. Night Shyamalan’s. Whereas the movie evokes depth of feeling through stillness and restraint, King’s novel is more effusive, stating things that could have remained unsaid. And while the earnestness is not necessarily unwelcome, especially given our young narrator, it has the effect of diluting the emotional power of that central relationship ... On a more granular level, King’s sentences snap into each other like Lego bricks, standardized, expertly molded pieces engineered to fit together perfectly. This is not necessarily a complaint; the prose reads easily and enjoyably. To continue the analogy, it’s a bit like seeing an accurate-to-scale roller coaster made entirely of Legos. When you step back, it’s impressive to see what he has built, even if one can’t help wondering whether it would be better if the pieces weren’t quite so fungible. And on further inspection, one sees the places where the rendering only approximates reality, where curves become right angles and true diagonals don’t exist. There’s a trade-off: more coherence, perhaps, but at the expense of making it sing ... But maybe the fungibility of the pieces is the very quality that makes them work. Later is yet another example of King’s talent in building stories out of the materials of his choosing, and like so many of his creations, it’s remarkable how well the thing holds together. The pace and ease of reading, the ratio of familiar to new. A roller coaster made of Legos is still a roller coaster, and even if I’ve been on this ride before it doesn’t make it any less fun.
What King has given us is a book that is part coming-of-age tale, part hard-boiled crime thriller and part paranormal ghost story. It’s an ambitious blend, to be sure, but one that King has long since shown capable of pulling off beautifully. His clear love of noir fiction joins forces with his horror bona fides and his still-strong ability to capture the fundamental truths about being a child, resulting in a lean and propulsive read ... Later offers the reader a chance to share a boy’s journey to young adulthood, a journey that is both typical and atypical. Yes, we get the moments of terror for which King is so rightfully well-known. And yes, we get stretches of more hard-boiled prose, elements of crime thriller. But at its heart, this is a story about how scary it is to grow up—and when King tells THOSE kinds of stories, he is at his very best ... That narrative relentlessness remains one of the very best parts of reading Stephen King. Better than any of his contemporaries, King is able to ensnare you with his stories, entangling your imagination with his own and pulling you inexorably into the tale he chooses to tell. He’s quick to land his hook, and once he does, well … just let him reel you in.