Jamie Conklin can see and talk to ghosts—a dubious talent that endangers his soul in Later, King’s new supernatural crime thriller.
Jamie’s had encounters with the newly dead since he was a young child. By some cosmic rule, spirits are compelled to answer any of his questions. Jamie’s mom, a single, successful literary agent, is worried and unnerved by this uncanny ability. She adopts a don’t ask, don’t tell approach—until she needs his talent to save them from financial ruin. Her girlfriend, jaded cop Liz Dutton, covets Jamie’s skills, too. And an evil spirit haunting Jamie wants the most of all. Little Jamie finds out “later” as he comes of age, how limited his childhood understanding really was.
It is hard to write a review for a novel by Stephen King, the “genius” and “Master of horror.” All the superlatives—spellbinding, superb, surprising—are stale.
Today, unable come up with fresh, clever compliments, I’ll resort to basic understatements. King is great. He takes everyday life and cants it into the realm of the macabre. Or maybe he makes the macabre a little more normal. Or both. King’s greatest gift is his deep understanding of humankind. He reads our hearts and hopes, our capacity for evil and good. He brings life to life though his writing. King gets people. And he gets scary.
Jamie’s voice pulls us into the story as he looks back on his childhood and adolescence from the grand old age of twenty-two. He’s a regular—mostly—kid, dealing with regular family issues. Aside from the whole talking-to-ghosts issue, Jamie could be your buddy, your boyfriend, your kid—or you at a younger age. His relatability, and our connection to all the characters, makes the horror all the more effective when lurches into the familiar.
Later is a cop story. A coming-of-age story. A ghost story. It reads as smooth and easy as driving on a freshly paved road. It seems straightforward, but it is a journey that you’ll think about unexpectedly weeks later. Later. As Jamie says, “Check it out.”