Reviewed by Ian Lipke
Hard Case books have been designed to be short, and promote tales that do not hold back. No pretty metaphors appear to lighten the mood. If the story is about horror, then blood and nastiness is what one expects. If it is a crime story, a murder or two and large sums of money or drugs to stimulate man’s greed are quite likely to appear.
Stephen King’s Later is one of this style except, being King, his book rises effortlessly above the expected, above the stereotyped tale that so many authors write and fiercely protect against criticism.
I begin to wonder when I see a book title like this one. What must the writer have been thinking? Later…later than what? After some significant event? Such pedestrian ideas just don’t occur to Stephen King. His story begins with a young boy, named Jamie, who can see and converse with the dead. Now that’s a scenario to trigger the imagination.
So yeah, I see dead people. As far as I can remember, I always have…It can be interesting, it can be scary sometimes…it can be a pain in the ass, but mostly it just is (24).
It’s no more than having a shadow, something as natural as that. King makes an exciting tale out of this basic, trimmed idea. It’s a story of a bomber, a drug baron, a lesbian mother, a kidnapper, a policewoman gone wrong, and a demon from the Dark Side. It’s an exciting story of dead men who must always tell the truth. Working its way throughout, like tendrils of fog searching for a party that has long concluded, is Jamie’s longing to know the identity of his father.
But that’s only one layer. King is never satisfied with a simple surface layer. His stories must say something that relates in some way with human behaviour. In this volume, King is interested in the possession of power over the supernatural. What might happen if a demon is summoned to a human being’s aid? At an earthly level, how do human beings behave when untold sums of money come available, to what extent will people plot in order to secure a fortune…these are the immediate things that interest King – and finally, how much pressure can a young man resist when his future is subject to external forces?
Apart from all the scary stuff and the sight of heads with eyes rolling around their cheeks and drool dribbling from pallid mouths, King has a warm, human touch when dealing with some of the wonders of living: “I took Mary Lou Stein to the movies and kissed her. She kissed me back, which was excellent” (239). I suspect that King is also, unknown to him, highlighting one of my pet hates, the use of headlines that draw attention to themselves by their prominence and tortured language: EX-COP DIES AFER SLAYING TORTURE PORN DON (238) is a good example.
Avid readers of Stephen King will enjoy this book. Others, if unused to King’s style, might blanch at the confrontational images he presents. The book cover makes quite clear that it portrays horrible actions and images.
The reader can rest assured, however, that no children or animals were hurt in the presentation of this tale.
By Stephen King
Titan Hard Case
$19.99; 272 pp
Paperback | Mar 2021 | Hard Case Crime | 9781789096491 | 272pp | 198x130mm | GEN | AUD$19.99, NZD$24.99