This is a horror story.
Yes, it’s a Hard Case Crime release, and yes, it has plenty of the necessary ingredients for a crime story. It has drug dealers and dirty cops and kidnapping and a serial bomber.
So yes, this is a crime story…but mostly it’s a horror story. A damn good one, I’m happy to say.
I’ve given hints about the crime components of the book without any type of context that might spoil that aspect of the story. I’m deliberately not going to say anything about the horror elements beyond what you already know from either pre-publication publicity or the likely fact that you’ve already read the book, given this review is appearing a week after publication: Jamie Conklin sees dead people.
Stephen King is treading familiar ground in Later, and I’m not just talking about that movie about that kid that sees dead people. There are tropes here that King has explored before — Constant Readers will easily recognize them — but you probably won’t care, because as familiar as Later may seem, it’s a quick, lean, and absolutely riveting read.
Jamie Conklin and his mom, Tia, are classic King characters, the kind of imperfect, perfectly relatable people that King conjures out of thin air and makes real within a few pages. The way Tia reacts to Jamie’s “gift” — with trepidation at first, and later, after observing and listening to her son, with acceptance and compassion — is grounded in normalcy. Once she understands Jamie’s abilities are real, she takes it in stride, an approach that in turn helps Jamie accept and adapt to his situation.
When the Conklins find themselves in a potentially devastating situation, Tia coaxes Jamie to use his abilities to help them out of the jam. With the help of Liz Dutton, a NYPD detective and Tia’s “special friend,” Jamie does what he’s asked to do, an action that sets into motion the frightening, potentially deadly scenario that follows.
This is a horror story, remember?
King leans harder into the horror of this story than in either of his previous Hard Case Crime releases, The Colorado Kid and Joyland. The finale is short and to the point, and memorably terrifying. Those who haven’t been satisfied with the supernatural shading of King’s previous crime fiction will appreciate that he tackles the chills head-on in Later.
I’m not ready to say this is my favorite King/Hard Case Crime release — I’m still partial to Joyland — but this one is begging for a re-read or two, and I could see it claiming the top spot in the future. For now, those of you who haven’t read this one already need to stop what you’re doing (well, finish this review, first — I worked hard on it) and dive in. I’m confident you’ll enjoy it.