BOOKS: Later: Stephen King


"Later" marks Stephen King's current return to the Hard Case Crime series of mystery novels.

His earlier Hard Case books include "Joyland" and "The Colorado Kid."

Essentially, the Hard Case Crime concept is to reintroduce readers to the pulp paperback stories of the past. And not just with the stories that can be read in a sitting or two but published in a cheaper mode, on less expensive paper, with the painted covers of lurid scenes.

On a lark, in the early 2000s, Hard Case publishers reached out to Stephen King, asking him for a blurb to help sell the new line of books. To their shock, King wanted to contribute a story instead of just a blurb. 

"The Colorado Kid" established the Hard Case Crime series. King's followup was "Joyland." Both of the books relied on mystery, fear in violence and gore, rather than the supernatural.

"Later" breaks from the traditional pulp mystery by leaning on the supernatural. Jamie Conklin is a kid who sees dead people – yes, King does give a tip of the hat to the "I see dead people" similarity to the movie "The Sixth Sense."

Here, the people who know Jamie use his abilities to help them in difficult situations. His mother, for example, a literary agent, pushes Jamie to learn the concluding plot of a successful series of books upon the death of an author she represents. His mother's police-detective girlfriend presses Jamie into service to learn the location of one last explosive placed by a suicidal bomber.

As with most King books, he mines the real fears not so much from the supernatural themes but the moments that touch upon the real, primal fears of separation, death, loss, abandonment, etc.

"Joyland" may still be the best King entry in the Hard Case series but "Later" is a fine addition. Hopefully, King will pen another one or two. Or the series will find a wider market for its mysteries by other authors.

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