Publisher: Simon and Schuster Audio (Audiobook – 2 March 2021)
Length: 6 hours and 32 minutes
My Rating: 4.75 out of 5 stars
Since I started this blog, one major author that I have neglected is the master of horror fiction, Stephen King. King needs absolutely no introduction, with a decades-long career of amazing horror novels, thrillers and heartfelt pieces of fiction, most of which have been turned into iconic films and television shows. Despite this, I haven’t read many of King’s novels before, aside from Cell and the novel he co-wrote with his son, Owen King, Sleeping Beauties. Honestly, I have only started getting into horror novels in the last couple of years (it is still not my favourite genre TBH) and I have completely failed to make time to check out some of King’s more recent releases. However, his latest novel, Later, caught my eye and I decided that it would be a good opportunity to expand my Stephen King knowledge.
Jamie Conklin is a young boy with a very unusual problem: he can see and talk to the spirits of the recently deceased. The son of a struggling single mother, Tia, Jamie just wants to have a normal childhood. However, as his ability becomes more apparent, his mother cautions him to hide his strange gift, worried that people will abuse his talents, especially as the dead have no choice but to truthfully answer any questions that Jamie asks of them.
Content to keep his secret to himself, Jamie attempts to live like a normal New York City kid during the late 2000s. However, when his mother pressures him to use his abilities to help save her failing publishing business, it places him in the crosshairs of his mother’s lover, corrupt police detective Liz Dutton. Liz, desperate for recognition from her bosses, draws Jamie into the hunt for a killer’s final surprise, which only his dead spirit can reveal. However, not all secrets are easily taken from the dead, and soon Jamie must contend with a terrible force determined to torment him from beyond. Can Jamie survive what is coming for him, or will it drag him into insanity?
This was an extremely cool novel that makes we really want to go out and read some more Stephen King books. Later is a fantastic read which combines multiple genres together to create an exciting and fast-paced narrative loaded up with some real heart and memorable characters. I had an absolute blast reading this clever novel, and thanks to its shorter length and captivating narrative, I powered through it in a very quickly.
I deeply enjoyed the cool and complex story that King came up with for Later, which proved to be a powerful and intriguing character-driven tale that moved across the genres. Told in a first-person chronicle format by an older version of the main protagonist, Later details the childhood of Jamie Conklin and his early experiences of talking to the dead. Weaving in anecdotes of his childhood and depictions of his early life with his mother, the story quickly and effectively sets up how Jamie discovered he had his powers, and some of the most significant times that he saw and talked to the spirits of the departed. This proves to be a fascinating coming-of-age story that showcases how this unique talent twisted and altered the course of Jamie’s life and took him into some dark places. The author does a fantastic job capturing the style of a young man recounting major events from his childhood, and I very much appreciated the mixture of childlike innocence with cynical reflections.
While this chronicle of a child’s life forms an effective and powerful centre to this entire narrative, this is also a horror story, as Jamie is traumatised by several of the spirits he encounters, especially as King provides some harrowing descriptions of mutilated ghosts and bodies. These horror elements get even stronger and spookier when Jamie encounters a truly evil spirit who starts to haunt him. Several of the scenes featuring this being are pretty terrifying, and I liked how King strongly highlights the dark side of Jamie’s power.
The author also works in some intriguing crime fiction elements as well, as the protagonist get wrapped up in a murder investigation and the dangerous schemes of a police officer. The crime fiction features are pretty thrilling, and l appreciated the consideration of how Jamie’s powers could be abused. I liked this unique blend of genres, and it ended up creating a very compelling and powerful story, which King sets out at an incredibly fast rate. King sets the story up perfectly, and I found myself really getting pulled in as the narrative set off, thanks to its unique tone and intriguing selection of supporting characters. The entire narrative goes in some very interesting directions and I liked how interconnected all the events that the narrator is recounting fit together into a clever and moving tale of discovery and redemption. All of this comes together into an exciting and scary finale as the narrator comes face-to-face with several of the monsters in his life, and I think that King came up with a very satisfying and clever ending for the book, which has potential for a sequel. I did think that the final big reveal of the book was extremely unnecessary, but it was a particularly typical Stephen King twist, so I should not have been so surprised. Overall, this was an exceptional narrative that I cannot hype up enough.
Later is a standalone novel from King which features a whole new group of characters. As a result, it is very accessible to a wide range of readers, even for those people who have not previously enjoyed any of King’s novels. I personally found it really easy to get into this cool story, even with my limited knowledge of the author’s prior works, and it honestly does not take long to get hooked on his clever and unique story. This is also quite a good book for established fans. Not only does it contain a lot of elements of a classic Stephen King novel, such as a young protagonist on a journey of self-discovery who ends up losing their innocence, but there are also some intriguing connections to some of King’s most iconic works. One horror inclusion in the novel appeared to be a version of a creature from a previous book, and I think that King readers will really appreciate the clever references he chucks in. Due to all this, I feel that Later is a perfect book for any curious readers, no matter their experiences with King’s works, and this may end up being the novel that draws new readers into this compelling master author’s web. I personally will make a bit more of an effort to read more of King’s works in the future, and I already have my eye on his next novel, which is coming out later this year. I also kind of hope that we see more of the characters at some point, especially as King did such a great job setting them up in this novel, while also leaving their overall story very open-ended.
I quite enjoyed the relatively modern setting that King utilised as a backdrop to his plot. With the protagonist chronicling his tale in his 20s, presumably in the present day, most of his childhood took place in the late 2000s and early 2010s. This is a pretty interesting departure from some of King’s more recognisable novels that explore the childhoods of their protagonists, such as It and Stand by Me, all of which make excellent use of their 1950s or 1980s settings (I liked the awesome 1980s nostalgia you got in the latest It film, for example). Instead, King loads up Later with a ton of references to 2000s culture and movies, and I had a fun time remembering some of the things that the protagonist experienced as a child. King, through the medium of his protagonist, also cleverly mentions The Sixth Sense right off the bat, ensuring readers that this story is “not like that movie with Bruce Willis”, which I thought was very entertaining, and also quite true. The Great Recession also becomes a key plot point of the novel, and it was interesting to see how King was able to utilise it as a major motivator for various character actions. I also liked how the story was set in New York City, rather than the small-town American locations King’s books are known for. The author uses this city-based location to great effect throughout the novel, painting a fantastic picture of New York life, especially through the eyes of his young protagonist. Jamie ends up visiting various parts of the city throughout the events of Later, including several communities on the outskirts of New York, and I enjoyed this great use of location.
I also have to highlight the multiple jokes about novelists and publishers that King features throughout Later, mainly due to Jamie being born into a publishing family. You have to imagine that King had a lot of fun coming up with all the great jokes and comedic insights into Jamie and his mother’s experiences with writers, and it ended up being a really fun addition to the plot. I had a particularly good laugh about the descriptions of a certain series of trashy historical romance/adventure novels that Tia’s struggling publishing company relies on, and I loved how King explored it throughout this entertaining narrative, as well as cleverly featuring a mock-up cover of one of these fictional novels released as a bonus dust jacket for Later. This extra dust jacket (see below), was drawn by the same cover artist who did Later’s hardcover, and I enjoyed the similar styles and the excellent tongue-in-cheek testimonial from King, praising this book within a book. Fun little inclusions like this really helped to push Later up to another level, and I liked how the humour from the publishing jokes contrasted nicely with the dark horror and crime fiction elements.
While I probably would have enjoyed reading a physical copy of Later, I instead chose to enjoy this fun novel in its audiobook format, which ended up being a fantastic choice. This audiobook has an extremely quick run time of just over six and a half hours. This shorter length was one of the main reasons I decided to listen to Later, and I was able to get through it in a day or two, although a lot of that was down to how awesome the story was. This was an impressively fast-paced audiobook, and I really felt that this format worked well with the first-person chronicle style the author utilised, as it felt like the protagonist was the one vocalising the story to you. Later was narrated by actor Seth Numrich, and it is one of the first audiobooks he has lent his voice to. I really enjoyed Numrich’s work on this audiobook; not only did he do an amazing top capturing Later’s unique tone, but he also provided a range of great voices for the characters featured within the novel. His main voice, which represented the narrating protagonist, really encapsulated the innocence and pain of the character as he tells the story of his strange childhood, and it helped draw me to the protagonist. The rest of his voices were pretty good, although I thought the voice he used for female detective Liz Dutton sounded a little like John Leguizamo, which is probably not what he was going for. Overall, though, this was an exceptional audiobook, and I would strongly recommend it to those who want to check out Later. I also hope that Numrich considers narrating more audiobooks in the future as he displayed some real talent here and was an absolute treat to listen to.
Later is an outstanding and impressive novel from the legendary Stephen King, who creates a unique and powerful tale of life, death and coming to terms with both. Featuring an intriguing narrative that blends together clever horror and crime inclusions with a powerful coming of age story, Later is a truly memorable novel that is extremely easy to fall in love with. I had an exceptional time reading this book and it is a must read for all fans of King’s work and anyone who has ever been curious about his writing.