by Simon Bewick
Before the review a quick word about Hard Case Crime – publishers of this new Stephen King release (their third after The Colorado Kid and Joyland)
I love Hard Case Crime and so should any crime/ mystery reader.
For the most part they publish hard boiled crime – from lost masterpieces from the likes of Donald E Westlake, Gregory McDonald, Ed McBain and many, many more, to writings from those very much still with us including Lawrence Block, Max Allan Collins and, indeed, Stephen King (You can see a full list of their authors here). As well as golden age stories the books are packaged with incredible, full pulp style covers that take you to a different time when we weren’t just looking at photo shopped shadow figures in half lit streets (and with about as much to do with the stories as the modern efforts have).
To be clear – I’ve got no relation with the publisher and any books I’ve read from them (and I’ve read a lot) have been bought by my own fair hand, but I wanted to give a shout out because as well as the occasional big hitter like Mr King they really do have a ton of great stuff in their back catalogue.
Ok, onto Later and Stephen King…
As I said at the top of this review this is the third book King has had published through HCC. The first – The Colorado Kid resulted in a five season TV show “Haven” loosely based on it. (The novel itself was loosely based on a real-life murder). The book was fine, even if, as the author himself admitted not feeling like a complete piece and lacking some resolution.
Joyland, the second book, came somewhere between 11/22/63 and The Shining sequel Dr Sleep in King’s ‘mainstream’ bibliography and was, for me, one of the most enjoyable books he’d written in a long time. The story of a teenager taking on a summer job at an amusement park and discovering some of the darker secrets behind the titular ‘Joyland’ it was a murder mystery with tinges of the supernatural creeping at the edges.
Now, HCC have released Later. It’s different from the vast majority of their catalogue in that it’s an out-and-out unabashed ghost story – albeit with crime involved.
The basic plot concerns Jamie Conklin, a young boy living with his single mother in New York who sees dead people. If that has a ring of The Sixth Sense about it don’t worry – King addresses it directly, from the now-adult Jamie’s narrator point of view right up front. Urged to keep this ability a secret by his mother, Jamie gets sucked into a crime investigation where his powers might help save lives…but at what cost to him?
There’s a fair bit more to it than that, but I’ll leave plot description there.
What I will say is it’s both immediately recognisable as King and, at the same time, different from his ‘main publisher’ stuff. For a start, it’s shortish- at 272 pages I read it in one sitting. Secondly, it’s set in New York…not the first book of King’s to be set outside of Maine, but a little indication where not in the regular King universe here…Although… there’s also plenty that will be familiar. King’s unique writing from a child’s point of view – both inner and vocalised dialogue. The descriptions of the dead may bring back a few memories of Pet Semetary for some. The cultural references – this time a child of the late ‘90s/ early ‘00s (which made me feel old…) and a few familiar terms for long term readers. There are deadlights here, folks.
It’s clearly something of a coup to have a writer of King’s popularity release something for you as publisher of the small-but-perfectly formed nature of HCC (certainly the print version is already out of stock on Amazon UK, but available in Kindle). And it’s clear King enjoys writing this style and whatever freedom it brings him as a writer.
I thought the story itself was great, and, if it’s a doorway for even a few of the millions of King fans who may not be familiar with some of the other authors published by Hard Case Crime who have influenced and thrilled him so much over the years, that can only be a very good thing.