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.
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.
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 / 5)