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Stephen King is known for his gruesome imagination, unique prose, frightening monsters, and a narrative voice that gently borders on breaking the fourth wall. You can pick up any one of his books, without looking at the cover, and have a pretty good guess at who wrote it. His narrative voice is incredibly distinctive, that is until he whips out a Hard Case Crime novel.

In case you don’t know, Hard Case Crime is an imprint publishing company that specializes in hardboiled crime thrillers, which isn’t necessarily unknown to King. He’s written several detective stories before, but they tend to lean more towards the supernatural than they do crime and are usually packed from dustcover to dustcover with character details and backstories to move along his many subplots. So if you haven’t read any of King’s Hard Case Crime novels before, there are three by the way, know that he completely turns that around.

Designed as pulp crime stories, they’re written in a way that’s reminiscent of the colorful and cheap detective novels you might come across in large stacks at the second-hand bookstore, written in a certain way that makes you think of a platinum blonde with a 50’s look hiding a small gun in her garter, but they’re also so undeniably King. The supernatural still exists but they’re more like background characters, stepping aside so that the humans can have the run of the show.

King’s three Hard Case Crime novels are Joyland, The Colorado Kid, and, of course, Later. That last of which we will be discussing.

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Released on March 2, 2021, Later follows a young boy named Jamie who is gifted, or cursed, with seeing the dead. Really, he is a much more functioning version of Haley Joel Osment’s Cole Sear. He lives with his single mother Tia, a struggling literary agent, in New York and that’s pretty much all the backstory you need to know. In spite of his skill, Jamie is just an ordinary kid. Unlike most mediums who appear in fiction, he is surprisingly well adjusted. Aside from the minor inconvenience that a particularly frightening or talkative deceased person might cause him, Jamie has accepted the fact that he sees dead people as part of his reality without much complaint.

All that changes though when he meets the ghost of mass murderer Kenneth Alan Therriault, also known as “Thumper.”

Enter Detective Liz Dutton. She’s dating Jamie’s mother and is desperate to catch the infamous bomber nicknamed Thumper who has been at large for nearly 10 years. As real as he is an urban legend, Thumper has no motive for his crimes and is interested in only one thing: leaving bombs at seemingly random locations to kill as many people as he can.

Dutton has made it her mission to stop Thumper no matter what it takes, and lucky for her, the man commits suicide just hours after being identified as Kenneth Alan Therriault. He leaves a last-minute note for the police claiming that he’s left one more bomb for them to find, intending to leave his legacy with a literal bang and Liz forcibly recruits Jamie to help look for it.

If you thought that’s the end of it though, boy uses powers to stop ghost bomber, you’d be wrong. That’s just the set up. As Jamie tells the reader from the beginning, “this is a horror story” and it’s not until Thumper and Jamie actually meet does the horror begin.

After meeting the ghost of Therriault, who is unlike any other ghost that Jamie has engaged with, the two form a strange connection, and Jamie must accept the possibility that Therriault, whatever he is now, is not going away.

Without giving anything away, Later feels a little like an extended prologue. If King wrote a sequel to this novel, I wouldn’t be surprised, would even expect it, because it just feels as if it’s setting something up. Like the ghosts that Jamie sees, Later is slightly faded but still compelling, both developed and undeveloped at the same time like an old haunted photograph. Either way, it’s a fun Scooby-Doo story about a teenage medium and you can’t go wrong with that.

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Not the best King has to offer, nor is it my favorite of his Hard Case Crime collection. That title goes to Joyland, but it was an enjoyable read that I can tell King probably had a lot of fun writing. 3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

Rachel Roth is a writer who lives in South Florida. She has a degree in Writing Studies and a Certificate in Creative Writing, her work has appeared in several literary journals and anthologies. @WinterGreenRoth

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Robert

    July 1, 2021 at 2:39 pm

    It’s a good book. I am not a big King fan yet it’s pace, details and plot lines are enjoyable

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Book Reviews

Brutality, Motherhood, and Art: Nightbitch Review

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“In the distance, she heard her husband in the backyard call for her , but she was not that woman anymore, that mother and wife. She was Nightbitch, and she was fucking amazing. It seemed she had been waiting for this for a very, very long time.” -pg 89, Nightbitch by Rachel Yoder

Nightbitch is the debut novel of Rachel Yoder about a stay-at-home mother coming to terms with the loneliness and brutality of motherhood. The main character, only referred to as The Mother, begins to undergo a frightening change as she sinks deeper into a depressive state. She transforms into Nightbitch, an animalistic creature full of anger, bloodlust, and freedom. The Mother must utilize the help of a strange book and a group of multi-level marketing mommies to harness her newfound strength before she loses herself or her family.

The novel is a stunning commentary on the everyday violence of motherhood centered within the context of werewolf and mystical woman mythos. The Mother spends much of the book contemplating her future and the abandonment of her dreams. Specifically, she grapples with the loss of her ability to create art, her longtime passion. On a larger scale, Nightbitch examines how many women are asked to stop being individuals after having children and only become mothers–existing only in the presence of their child. The message is clear, poignant, dark, and at times, hilarious. The prose and structure of the book are abnormal, however, it works with the overall messaging and plot. 

As far as negatives go, Nightbitch was pretty ambiguous. This was by design, and created an aura of magical mysticism around many of the characters and events. The Mother is the definition of an unreliable narrator. However, towards the end of the book, I would have liked a little more clarity in what certain characters knew. 

Nightbitch is a must read for any parent. As a non-parent, I highly recommend it for those interested in feminist horror or more avant-garde approaches to horror narratives. Those who don’t like books with heavy introspection or ambiguous storytelling may enjoy something else, however I still think it is an interesting read nonetheless. 

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4.4 out of 5 stars (4.4 / 5)

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Book Reviews

Gothic, Ghosts, and Tlachiqueros: The Hacienda Review

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“Dread washed over me. Had she been sitting there, watching me sleep, the whole night? Her skin gleamed like candle wax in the light; then she grinned and whatever color her eyes had been before, now they turned red. In an instant, her skin transformed, dried and desiccated into leather, and her teeth grew long and needle sharp.” -pg 214, The Hacienda by Isabel Cañas

The Hacienda is a gothic horror novel by Isabel Cañas set in the wake of Mexico’s War for Independence. The debut novel by Cañas, it delivers a classic haunted house tale with a twist of Mexican high society. Recently made homeless by the execution of her father, Beatriz marries Don Solórzano to escape her cruel treatment by her relatives. However, once she joins him on his estate, she finds that the promise of a new life holds dark secrets and darker spirits. She enlists the help of a priest, Andrés, to uncover both. Together, they find the home has more dangers than they bargained for. And more threats both supernatural and far too material await every corner.

I adored The Hacienda from start to finish. Cañas’s prose was accessible but full of deep imagery. While told from the perspective of both Beatriz and Andrés, neither outweighed the other. The perspectives were interesting and the transition between the two was well executed throughout the novel. I usually don’t seek out romantic books, but I loved the romantic and sexual tension between the two main characters. Specifically since the romantic tension developed within both perspectives, the relationship’s “will-they-won’t-they” felt both plausible and full of stakes. And of course, The Hacienda was spooky! I loved the way the spirits manifested and the impact that had on the characters.

My only minor criticisms would be the resolution was fairly quick and mostly offscreen. Though maybe I’m just saying that because I wanted to keep reading, even after the book ended! I also found myself slightly annoyed at the characters for not picking up on some of the more obvious clues to what had happened in the house. 

A thoroughly enjoyable gothic (and dare I say, romantic) novel that kept me on the edge of my seat, I highly recommend The Hacienda. If you enjoy haunted house tales, you will enjoy this book. 

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4.8 out of 5 stars (4.8 / 5)


Preorder Isabel Cañas’s new book Vampires of El Norte now!

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Book Reviews

“The Family Game” Glimpses Into The 1%

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Are their traditions innocent or are they darker than they seem?

The Plot

Harry, short for Harriet, is a British writer gaining popularity after the publishing of her first novel. She meets Edward, a member of the widely known Holbeck family, and the two strike up a relationship. The Holbecks are high powered executives, running family businesses that bring in massive amounts of wealth. When Harry learns she is pregnant, the couple decide that it is finally time for her to meet the family.

During her first meeting with the family, Edward’s father, Robert gives Harry a vintage tape that he says holds a story that he’d like her to listen to. As Harry listens to the tape, she begins to believe that the Holbecks have done some very bad things.

As she continues visiting the family, their strange traditions are revealed to her. The games that they play traditionally involve darkness and fear. Can Harriet find out the truth about the mysterious Holbecks?

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The Verdict

Catherine Steadman outdoes herself in The Family Game. She creates such a mysterious family in the Holbecks and their dynamics are intriguing. Readers will follow Harry as she tries to determine the truth about Robert’s misdoings. The cast of family characters are a wonder to watch. We’ve all always wondered what the extremely rich live like. Harry shows us their virtues and misdeeds.

The novel really remarks on the power of wealth and the wealthy’s ability to commit audacious crimes and pay for them to go away. Robert, as the patriarch of the family, is a prime example of such. As Harry begins to discover that Robert may be confessing to a series of murders on the cassette tape, she must decide how to proceed. She knows that the power that Robert holds cannot be taken lightly.

As Harry navigates potentially deadly Christmas traditions, she races for the truth, unable to forget once she finds it. Harry is such a compelling character – a developing mother willing to risk life and limb to protect her unborn baby. Harry is brave and unapologetic and is a true testament on how to write a female main character.

It was very difficult for me to decide between 4 and 5 Cthulus, so we will call it 4.5. This is a novel I highly recommend thriller lovers check out. 4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

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