Review by Brennan LaFaro
It’s been a few years since Stephen King collaborated with Hard Case Crime to release something. The last time it happened, we got Joyland—an underappreciated newer work that somehow still finds its way onto the best of lists of a fair few constant readers. Myself included.
Most of the time, I like to go in without reading a synopsis (and I’m glad I did this time, more on that later), so a first-person narrative written from the POV of a man in his early twenties recounting his childhood found me well. Add to that, this particular boy has powers. Peak King wheelhouse right there. Even if the execution faltered, I knew I’d still find enjoyment here to some degree. Thankfully, it didn’t.
Jamie, our protagonist, can see dead people, but don’t roll your eyes yet. King uses inner dialogue to make us very aware he recognizes the Sixth Sense parallels, making a silent promise to take us somewhere different. Jamie utilizes this gift early on for a variety of reasons, all in order to help people. Where it gets interesting is after we establish the rules, when one of the ghosts begins to break them.
Here’s my callback to the synopsis thing. There’s references and lore tied to an earlier King novel. Some people might consider what I just wrote a spoiler, and it is, albeit a mild one. I include it here because the back cover synopsis will not only tell you the same, but will tell you precisely what book’s mythology you’ll be revisiting. For those of you who like to go without any prior knowledge, this is big. The first time I stumbled upon a certain set of words, the book’s tenterhooks, already in place, dug in deeper and refused to let go.
I understand why this was done, with so many readers being lukewarm on King’s newer works, but the surprise hit me in a way I believe the author intended.
The book utilizes crime-story-esque pacing, with short fast chapters that give the reader seemingly unlimited chances to say “just one more” until your right hand has no pages left to hold. The characters are full of life, especially Jamie’s mother, who provides the heart of the story. Arguably, the whole thing revolves around her and King makes it work.
There are instances where the dialogue doesn’t feel terribly authentic to the main character’s age, but when the credits roll, the pros vastly outweigh the cons. If you’ve enjoyed King’s previous work with Hard Case Crime, you’ll enjoy this one. If you’re okay with the potential gimmick of bringing back older elements of King-mythos, you’ll love it. If you’re a constant reader and you’re going to get this no matter what I say, know you’re in for one of the better ones.
I received a copy from the publisher for review consideration.