★★★★ out of ★★★★★
Written by THE Stephen King.
Is there anyone more qualified to tell the emotional tale of a mother and son relationship beset by ghostly visuals and a murderous mystery? If there is please tell us because as far as we’re concerned Stephen King is still sitting a top horror hill and there’s not anyone out there that will ever reach this pinnacle.
Once again, King goes back to a tight, concise, and economical crime writing style with 2021’s Later. Much like the Colorado Kid and Joyland, King conjures up a bread-and-butter writing style deeply reminiscent of Jim Thompson and Richard Stark (AKA Donald Westlake). There’s no wasted space, every word has a punch, and hold on to your hats because King carves out twisty twist that will have you audibly gasping!
Later follows a struggling single mom, Tia, who’s trying to keep her head above water in the back-stabbing world of literary publishing and editing. We’re going to go out on a limb and assume the King’s got some prior experiences in this world. Tia is trying her darnedest to juggling the big city life, he brother Harry in the throes of dementia, and her son Jamie Conklin’s needs and his eerie talent.
Turns out that Jamie has the ability to both see the recently deceased but also the ability to engage them in a spooky bit of question and answer. Jamie discovers early on in life the dead cannot tell lies. Whatever question they are asked the rules of purgatory dictate that they must be answered truthfully and fully.
In addition to Tia’s single mom duties, she’s also managing a long-term romantic relationship with a police detective, Liz. The real-world stresses of dealing with literary giants and the equally real-world grit of being a detective often have Liz and Tia at each other’s throats. One too many glasses of wine and the two continuously snap at each other. Life is complicated for Tia, but she has a mighty cash-cow in her back-pocket. Long time writer Regis Thomas continues to bang out wildly popular romance novels about the Roanoke colony.
Regis heads to the great bookstore in the sky just as he’s finishing the final book in his series. Distraught about her now dead cash-cow, but convinced she can employ her son to chat with Regis in the after life and piece apart his final novel, Tia takes ghost-writing to a whole new level.
Tia and Liz’s relationship becomes increasing fraught with turmoil and consternation just as Jamie encounters a new-found undead ghoul who’s stuck in purgatory and hell-bent on giving Jamie the what-for.
Later, entirely narrated by Jamie Conklin as he contends with the various phases of childhood, teen life, and his ever-present haunting, is a compelling and endearing coming-of-age story. Jamie’s thoughts, ideas, worries, and interests are deftly meted out as King brings you in to Jamie’s emotional palate. Much like King’s regular collaborator, Mick Garris, King is has an incredible talent at finding emotional voice that draws you in between the constant frights.
If it’s a snappy but spooky read you’re after, Later is the perfect poolside summer read. It’s engaging, emotionally resonate, and it twists and turns in ways that are guaranteed to have you shouting “WHUT THE HELL JUST HAPPENED?”