Stephen King


Mystery / Thriller


Date Reviewed:

August 25, 2022

tephen King can write some awesome novels (The Shining is a masterpiece of eerie creepiness), but Later is not his best work. I picked it up because I have been reading novels published by Hard Case Crime, and they published Later. Unlike the other Hard Case Crime novels I have read, this does book does not feature a hard-nosed private investigator. Instead, the protagonist is a young boy named Jamie Conklin. Jamie has a secret that his mother has forbidden him to reveal to anybody - Jamie can talk to dead people. Yes, it is very much like the plot device in the classic movie The Sixth Sense. It is as if King saw that movie and decided to write his own twist on the idea of a kid who can converse with the dead. So the core idea at the heart of this novel does not seem original.

We learn that Jamie can see the dead only for a few hours or days, and then they fade away into insubstantial translucence before dissipating entirely. We also learn that the dead cannot tell a lie, which is helpful to the story. The dead somehow sense that Jamie can see and hear them even though none of the other living people can detect their ghostly presence.

Jamie's mother, Tia, is an editor. Her business has fallen on hard times since her brother has succumbed to early dementia. Even worse, the mega-star author Regis Thomas, who writes a best-selling series of bodice-ripping historical novels called Roanoke, has just dropped dead. Without her percentage from editing the last Roanoke novel, the Conklin's will slide into financial ruin. So of course Jamie is taken to the estate of Regis Thomas to see if he can get an info dump on the final Roanoke novel that his mom will finish and publish.

Jamie's mother has a lover, an NYPD detective named Liz Dutton. Unfortunately, Liz is told of Jamie's secret talent, and she realizes just how useful it would be if a dead victim could be interviewed...

All of this material is a whole lot of setup for the story - it takes 90 pages (in a paperback book that totals just 248 pages) before there is any hint of a crime. Since this is written by King, an accomplished author, this background material is interesting enough, but it is hardly suspenseful. There is a whole lot of four-letter words in the beginning of the novel - I have indeed met New Yorkers who use a curse word for every adjective and adverb, but it seemed unnecessary in this story. Fortunately, as the story progresses, the swearing dwindles away.

When evil finally appears in the narrative, it is in the form of an anonymous killer who calls himself the Thumper Bomber - he leaves explosives in various places around the city that kill and maim random citizens, and then mails a typewritten note taunting the police about his latest terrorist act. By a stroke of luck, the police finally catch up with Kenneth Therriault, and unmask him as the Thumper Bomber. Therriault dies - but detective Liz realizes that she can score a major coup if Jamie can talk to Therriault and get him to reveal his secrets (recall that the dead cannot lie). The resulting success makes Liz a hero, and confirms for her that Jamie's talent is real. This sets up the story a the center of the plot.