“Later,” by Stephen King (Hard Case Crime)
Stephen King gets a lot of credit for creating the monsters under kids’ beds (here’s looking at you, Pennywise), but not enough for this simple fact: The guy gets kids. Their fears, certainly, but also their voices, the way they see the world differently than adults.
To a long list that includes Danny Torrance from “The Shining” and Gordie Lachance from “The Body,” we can now add Jamie Conklin, the star of King’s most recent novel, “Later.”
Published under the Hard Case Crime imprint, which also distributed “The Colorado Kid” (2005) and “Joyland” (2013) — “Later” is narrated by 22-year-old Jamie, looking back on his formative years. He begins his story at age 6, when he first figured out he could see and talk to the dead.
It’s that gift which propels the plot of this slim novel. Encouraged by his mother’s NYPD girlfriend, Liz, Jamie gets tied up in the pursuit of a serial bomber in New York. It’s not giving too much away to say he helps crack the case, but to say what happens after that would spoil all the fun.
There’s classic King here for fans. Imagine the carnage on any given day in the Big Apple and then imagine being a young man seeing the mangled dead walking around in the afterlife, with holes in their heads “as big as a dessert plate and surrounded by irregular fangs of bone.”
But even amid the gore and escalating tension, King finds moments to make Jamie relatable. As Liz and his mom argue at the scene of a crime, we pop inside Jamie’s head before he screams at them. “One of the worst things about being a kid, maybe the very worst, is how grownups ignore you when they get going" on their own issues, writes King.
In the end, the story Jamie narrates to readers climaxes in a thrilling whodunit, while uncovering truths about Jamie’s life that might have been better left buried. For as the novel’s cover declares: “Only the dead have no secrets.”