This is the first time I’ve finished a Stephen King novel and thought, “Boy, that could’ve done with a couple hundred more pages.” Which isn’t to say the 240 here aren’t packed with incident, or that “Later” won’t end up being one of the best damn entertainments of the year. I just wish the core ideas at the heart of it had more time to germinate, and that the connective tissue between its major scenes expanded upon.
Jamie Conklin sees dead people. I know — you’re read and watched this one before. But like every device in fiction, it’s not the concept that makes a novel, but its development. “Later” is framed from Jamie’s perspective, looking back on his childhood as the only child of a New York literary agent. He’s aware of his supernatural ability, but tries to ignore it, and does so successfully — mostly. The dead don’t interact with Jamie unless he initiates contact, and unless their bodies were mangled in death, they look like everybody else on the street.
But dire circumstances dictate Jamie harness his “powers” to help his mother finish her late client’s manuscript. And when his mum’s girlfriend — a crooked, dope-addicted cop — witnesses Jamie in action, she realises how effective he could be in saving lives… and illicitly enhancing her own. Trouble is, Jamie has angered a darker, demonic presence, who wants revenge.
Jamie’s young voice doesn’t come off as particularly contemporary, which jarred at first, given the story is ser in the recent past; but it bothered me less as the story progressed. I didn’t love King’s explanation as to how Jamie got his abilities in the novel’s coda, either. It fits thematically, I suppose, but left me feeling a little sour. But “Later” is such a cracking yarn, easily consumed in one poolside sitting. Its story beats echo some of King’s epic works, but confined to the shorter page count of the classic pulps. No, it’s not vintage, but I had a really fun time with it.
Number Of Pages: 272
Published: 1st March 2021
Publisher: Titan Publishing Group
Country of Publication: GB
Savvy readers know, of course: never buy the book based on the film. I know, I know; I can tear you tut-tutting, muttering I-Told-You-So’s. But here we are, I bought one, and the result is as you’d expect: a tad underwhelming. You need to understand, though: this is a novelization based on a Shane Black script – the guy who wrote Lethal Weapon, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Iron Man 3 – which has been turned into the movie starring Ryan Gosling and Russel Crowe, The Nice Guys. Not only that, the book is published by the reputable folks at Hard Case Crime – so I expected great things. Alas, what I got is very much a novel that feels like it’s missing a vital ingredient; that special something that would elevate it above other novels in the genre.
The Nice Guys is an unabashed buddy-cop action comedy. Holland March is the always-inebriated, always-buffoonish private eye with a busted nose. Jackson Healy is the tough guy, whose tough-as-nails attitude belies a softer underbelly. They’re like fire and ice, boasting completely divisive personalities that theoretically render any sort of partnership inoperable. But of course, circumstances throw them together in a hunt for a missing girl.
Ardai captures the feel of 1970’s Los Angeles to perfection – not at all a pleasant place to live, and in my mind, barely conceivable given what the city has become, and is today. And his prose is typically stark and hardboiled: this is a writer well-versed in the genre, who knows what its readers demand. Unfortunately, the plot is fairly cookie-cutter; but whereas the film can rely on standout performances by Crowe and Gosling to overcome its formulaic structure, Ardai’s adaptation can’t quite overcome these shortcomings. I get the feeling the success of The Nice Guys film will be down to the actors’ rhythm – and while Ardai nails their patter (it’s being plucked from the screenplay, after all) he can’t (through no fault of his own) capture their mannerisms. In other words, The Nice Guys novel is fine on paper, a serviceable whodunit, but isn’t much more than that.
Readers unfamiliar with Ardai’s work are doing themselves a slight disservice by beginning with The Nice Guys. Do yourself a favour and grab yourself a copy of the stellar Fifty-to-One to see what the guy can really do, on his own, without a predetermined blueprint.
Format: Paperback (175mm x 106mm x mm)
Imprint: Titan Books Ltd
Publisher: Titan Books Ltd
Publish Date: 10-May-2016
Country of Publication: United Kingdom