Audiobook Review: Later by Stephen King
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 4 of 5 stars
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio (March 2, 2021)
Length: 6 hrs and 32 mins
Narrator: Seth Numrich
Oh, how great it is to feel excited about a Stephen King book again! Because I’ll tell you, the last ten years or so, it has been hit or miss. But Later feels different. It’s a lighter read, for one, in terms of page length if not in subject. And if that cool looking vintage style cover wasn’t clue enough, the story also has a bit of that old-school vibe.
Meet Jamie Conklin, a boy who sees dead people. This is his story of his childhood growing up raised by single mom Tia, owner of a struggling literary agency in New York City. The two of them have kept his special abilities a secret ever since their neighbor’s wife died, when Jamie discovered that not only can he see the lingering spirits of the recently deceased, but he can speak to them as well. And as it turns out, when asked a question, the dead can’t lie. This was when Tia realized that her son’s unusual gift can be used for good or ill, and that if anyone ever found out, it could put his life in danger. Hence, they swore to tell no one.
The day Jamie found out that his mother had broken her promise though, a panicked Tia had picked him up from school, and her girlfriend, NYPD Detective Liz Dutton, had driven them all out to the remote cottage belonging to bestselling author Regis Thomas. The famous writer and his books had been the only reason Tia’s company had been able to keep its head above water, and just barely at that. But now, he was dead, and right before he was supposed to write the final volume to his epic masterpiece, the Roanoke Saga series, the one where readers were supposed to get all the answers. No one, however, except Tia knew that Regis had only begun work on his latest novel. Having copy edited his work for many years, she was convinced she could finish the book herself, if only she knew what it was going to be about. That was where Jamie came in. And of course, having facilitated the ensuing meeting between him and ghost-Regis, Liz Dutton had to be let in on the truth of the boy’s powers—a mistake that would haunt our protagonist for the rest of his life. Quite literally.
Personally, I found Later to be one of King’s more readable works, and so much of this due to the voice of Jamie, recounting this tale as an adult. As someone who grew up around writers and books, he was a precocious, well-read child who understood early on what it meant being able to see dead people. Perceptive and also smart enough to keep circumspect lest he gets carted off and locked away forever, young Jamie was good at managing his emotions, far better than I would have been at this age, if I’d been subjected to some of the gruesome sights he’s seen (the dead appear to him as they are the moment they died, wearing the same clothes and, in some cases, bearing the same injuries from the accidents or acts of violence that might have killed them). Keep in mind too, that he’s bearing the burden of his secret alone—no siblings or close friends to confide in, and he keeps most of his troubles from his mother, as not to stress her out. Yet in spite of the whirlwind of his life, the tone of his narration was personable and authentic, and that went a long way in helping me fly right through this book.
Furthermore, as Jamie himself tells us repeatedly, this is a horror story, and you know how much I enjoy those. That being said, I didn’t find this one too scary. Creepy in some places, maybe, but for the most part, the frights ran towards being more of the thrilling, adrenaline-fueled sort. And that was just fine with me. I loved it when the story moved into the exciting, unputdownable territory. Plus, King being King, he knew how to spread the action around, injecting some of the quieter, introspective moments in between, the kind that give his books a certain something—that special spark of brilliance that brings the reader closer to his characters and therefore drawing you deeper into the story.
If I had one complaint, it would be the ending. We’re left with a bombshell of a revelation, dropped on us right in the denouement. Only an author of Stephen King’s caliber could have gotten away with a move so bold, but I can’t even go into detail about it because it’s a massive spoiler. Still, it was information that would have affected Jamie in a big way, yet it was almost casual the way it was discussed and then brushed aside like an afterthought before—BOOM—the last page. In fact, the end came so abruptly that when the credits rolled (so to speak) on the audio edition I was listening to, I had to double check my player to make sure it didn’t skip any chapters or that I had downloaded all the parts. All I can hope is that we haven’t seen the last of Jamie Conklin. I would love to get another story with our boy who sees ghosts, and the good news is, considering the way this one still leaves a few loose ends hanging, I think chances are high that the ending was not a “Good bye” but merely a “See you…later.”
As for my thoughts on the audiobook, holy crap, it was awesome. I was not familiar with Seth Numrich as a narrator before this, but he was certainly the perfect choice for this novel as he perfectly captured the astute and witty voice of our protagonist recounting all the emotion and drama of his childhood. Then there are his voices and accents, from his portrayal of Liz Dutton to the various ghosts, demons, and bad sorts who make an appearance. While the story itself was great, it was superb voice acting that made this audiobook an intensely addictive listen.