‘Later’ sparks King’s original magic

In recent years, Stephen King has been shifting away from the strange and horror genres. Books like The Outsider and If It Bleeds still implement horror and bizarre elements, but it’s beginning to feel as if these elements have been placed on the backburner. He's been fixated on the crime, mystery, and detective genres with novels such as the Mr. Mercedes trilogy and The Outsider. King has released novels under the Hard Case Crime imprint, books intended to catch the feel of classic pulp fiction and noir novels, beginning with The Colorado Kid and Joyland. King once again returns to Hard Case Crimes with Later.

Later follows Jamie Conklin, who has the ability to talk to the dead, but with minor exceptions. When asked a question, the dead have to give him the truth, and these ghosts can only stay around a few days until passing on. Jamie lives with his single mother, who’s a struggling editor. Once her bestselling author dies without finishing his final novel, she uses Jamie to talk with the deceased author to finish the book. His mother’s detective girlfriend, Liz, struggles to believe he has this ability while drawing him into a case with the hopes of stopping a deceased serial killer who left behind one final surprise. 

King at his finest

One of the best aspects of King is his approach to bizarre and outlandish ideas. Novels like Pet Sematary, The Shining, and It perfectly showcase his ability to take strange concepts and turn them into some of literature’s finest works. Later follows this same idea with having a concept that might sound similar to The Sixth Sense but approaches it differently. The concept is structured in a way so that it feels fresh and unique. Since it is a Hard Case Crime novel, the book has a quick and speedy pace; these novels tend to be shorter than King’s usually lengthy tomes. Unlike some of King’s other works, like Pet Sematary and The Stand that linger around in some areas, Later gets to the point right from the start and never slows down. The story also bleeds in and out of different smaller stories that connect to the overall tale. It begins with Jamie’s mother trying to finish the dead author’s novel before leading into the small crime portion of the book. Both of these then lead into the actual meat of the story. 

The book also makes use of its title by incorporating multiple layers. The word “later” holds many meanings and is used continuously throughout, without ever feeling repetitive. For example, the story is told from a first-person perspective, with Jamie reflecting on his life. On almost every page, Jamie will point out something that might seem minor now which comes into play “later” or mention a subtle detail he didn’t catch until “later.” 

For being published under the Hard Case Crime series, it was surprising to find that Later wasn’t a crime novel. There are crime elements sprinkled throughout, and for the exception of a minor section of the book, there isn’t much detective work. The focus on horror instead of the detective work is a detour from The Colorado Kid and Joyland — both released under Hard Case Crimes. However, Later turned out to be the best of the three by improving upon many aspects. Later feels less like King trying to force his style into a genre that can’t support it and instead feels like a stereotypical King novel.

And, of course, you can’t have a King novel without references to the larger King universe. Fans of his work will enjoy the connections to the rest of his universe. From small references to a novel like The Shawshank Redemption to major plot elements taken from It, this tale was almost like a Where’s Waldo? for King fans. 

Maybe later

Later does struggle from some elements that feel like a result of King’s age. The dialogue and actions at times when Jamie was younger did not feel natural to how kids are today. Although King is notorious for capturing the essence of children within his books — most notably It and The Body (adapted into the film Stand By Me) — Later feels almost as if King is too far removed from his youth to portray children perfectly. The way the story follows Jamie growing up was done well for being a shorter book, but it still has its minor missteps here and there.

Something annoying that King has usually been good at leaving to the wayside is talk of politics. King’s never been afraid to add monologues about topics and ideas within his books, but he usually tries to avoid putting his political beliefs within his work. Even though Later doesn’t contain many examples of this, it was annoying at certain points when the story felt as if it paused to present his views on the political climate. Perhaps if these elements were better woven into the story, so they didn’t stick out like a sore thumb, it would have appeared less intrusive. However, in the beginning, there are certain points where it felt as if King was sacrificing the characters to force political drama that did not feel natural to how the characters were introduced. 

Since the book revolves around the young boy being able to talk to the dead, this ties in with the theme of secrets. Countless times throughout the story, disturbing secrets are revealed about characters, tying into a theme that some secrets are better left unknown. This concept works well for most of the secrets, except for one. A mystery that haunts Jamie is who his father is because his mother refuses to tell him. Once his identity is revealed in the end, it works with the theme of leaving secrets alone. It does feel like King went a little too far because most will wish they hadn’t learned the answer to this particular question.

Sources: Hard Case Crime, IMDB

Featured Image: GameSpot

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