Later was published on March 2, 2021, as a paperback Hard Case Crime edition from Titan Books, London, UK. It is one of three novels by Stephen King that have been published by Hard Case Crime, the others being Joyland and The Colorado Kid. Some books by King are luxuriously printed hardcovers, with all the bells, whistles and finesse associated with his status as a world-class writer.
This book looks and feels like one of those you’d find in the paperback rack at the supermarket, or stacked in dog-eared piles, one much like the other, in a second-hand books store. The format is small, it’s short, and the cover artwork by Paul Mann is like something from the sixties, hand-drawn, flat colour, showing a woman with an outrageous cleavage posed perkily on a car. It looks exactly like a throw-back to those pulp fiction crime and romance novels of yesteryear. I was surprised that King would contribute his writing to this publishing line.
Crime for the connoisseur
But I found out that this is indeed a nod to those vintage novels. And I reminded myself, that while those novels might not have been great works of art, they were short and punchy, which suits King’s writing style, and they sold extremely well, which is why they kept being published. Hard Case Crime, this reinvention, explained on the cover of the book, “…brings you the best in hard-boiled crime fiction, from lost pulp classics to new work by today’s most powerful writers, all in handsome and affordable editions. The yellow ribbon represents your assurance of quality.”
Having figured this out, I knew what to expect: a short, shocking thriller with no wasted words, no navel-gazing, and no poetic prose. Just an unapologetic dose of “ultra-violence”, as Anthony Burgess called it in A clockwork Orange. It was quite like that and it was fantastic! I have not had so much fun reading a thriller in ages!
King is really at the top of his game with this novel. It is very, very smart and suspenseful – from the intriguing title, to the well-paced plot, to the interesting and unpredictable characters. I read it in one sitting because I really needed to know what was going to happen.
What happens later
It is an ingenious spin on police detective work and involves a lot of dead – but not silent – people, and a corrupt and possibly insane female cop. Saying more would be giving away the plot, but I’m telling you, that word “later” had me chewing my nails in anticipation.
The protagonist is a 23-year-old adult, recalling what had happened to him as a 13-year-old teenager. Normally I do not read books where children are the main characters, especially when they speak in the first person. (I’m too old for that.) But in this novel, it did not bother me. The speaker, “Jamie”, is a precocious child, with a talent that forces him into thinking like an adult – doing that thing that children’s brains are not yet good at doing: considering the repercussions of their actions. Jamie has to deal with what he does now, which will have a result…later.
Like I said, any quote from the book would give away the plot, which is half the fun, but here goes – randomly selected:
I’m sure you’re wondering what the heck led to that comment. It is a very suspenseful story and not what you’d expect. It is also a reminder of what good, concise, tightly-structured writing looks like.
So, this can be one for your Christmas stocking, a present from yourself to yourself. It’s small, inexpensive, enjoyable and just the kind of creepy thing you will need to relieve you of the season’s excessive sentimentality.
Recognize the style? More Hard Case Crime novels
I think I would like to try “Are Snakes Necessary?” next. How’s that for a title!