62 pages 2 hours read

Stephen King


Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2021

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Summary and Study Guide


Later (2021) is Stephen King’s 67th novel. It tells the story of young Jamie Conklin, who wrestles with adult issues caused and exacerbated by his ability to see ghosts.

King has won more than 30 awards for his fiction. He has written over 80 novels, in addition to 20 novellas, over 120 short stories, and 5 nonfiction books. His novels and short stories have been made into 39 films (with another 16 planned as of 2022) and 13 television series (with 7 more being planned). He’s written 9 of the screen adaptations himself and made cameos and voice appearances in 11 movies, including one in which he played himself. As of 2023, Later is slated to become a television series by Blumhouse.

This guide is based on the 2021 Hard Case Crime print edition.

Content Warning: Later mentions incest, a death by suicide, a suicide attempt, and child death. It also conflates mental health conditions with criminal acts and supernatural possession.

Plot Summary

The narrator—adult Jamie Conklin—opens the novel by apologizing for the frequent use of the word “later,” but he can’t help it because he’s telling a story that began when he was young. For the adult Jamie, his story is from the perspective of later.

Adult Jamie begins his story on the day his mother, Tia, finally starts to believe in his ability to speak to the dead. Six-year-old Jamie and his mother encounter neighbors Marty Burkett and his wife, Mona, in the hallway. Marty tells them that Mona has died, and Jamie realizes that he is seeing the dead Mona. This is not the first time he’s seen and spoken to a dead person, so it doesn’t bother him. Professor Burkett has been looking for his wife’s rings. Jamie learns from Mona that she’d hidden her rings in a linen closet. He tells his mother where the rings are, and she finds them in the closet. That night, Tia tells Jamie to never tell anyone that he can talk to dead people, because the dead have secrets, and there are people who might want those secrets.

The next episode in Jamie’s story involves his mother’s most profitable literary client, Regis Thomas. Thomas dies just as he is beginning his latest book, which is a financial disaster for Tia’s literary agency. Without this book, she will lose her agency and everything else she has. Tia takes Jamie out of school, and she and her cop girlfriend, Liz, take him to Thomas’s home, hoping to find Thomas’s ghost and extract the story from him. Jamie is shocked and hurt to realize that after telling him to never reveal his secret, his mother told her girlfriend about it.

The dead can’t lie when asked a direct question; they also don’t care much about the things that matter to them in life, and Regis Thomas is content to recount his final book to Jamie, who relays it to his mother. Tia is able to write the book, presenting it as Thomas’s work and saving her agency. However, she’s exposed Jamie’s secret to Liz, who is not the honest cop Tia believes her to be.

When Tia discovers Liz’s drug-running, she kicks Liz out, but a year later, Liz meets Jamie after school. Jamie doesn’t want to get in her car with her, but she persuades him by telling him a serial bomber has just died by suicide after setting his final bomb. The police have to find him so Jamie can find out where he placed the bomb before it goes off. Faced with the potential deaths of many people, Jamie accompanies Liz. They find Kenneth Therriault, the bomber, and Jamie forces him to reveal the location of the bomb. Therriault doesn’t want to give away the location, and when Jamie insists, an outside force enters the ghost’s body—something Jamie thinks of as “the deadlight.”

Liz’s bosses and colleagues suspect that she’s corrupt, but she uses the discovery of Therriault’s bomb to save her failing career. Jamie finds that he is being hunted by Therriault. Usually, the dead fade within a day or two, but Therriault not only hangs around, but is able to touch Jamie. The deadlight that entered Therriault allows him to remain in the world.

Jamie remembers that Professor Burkett, who has remained a good friend to the family, is a Professor of Literature at New York University and teaches a class on Gothic Literature. He thinks Professor Burkett might be able to help him get rid of Therriault. He uses the incident with Mona’s rings to persuade Professor Burkett to somewhat believe him. Professor Burkett tells Jamie about something called the Ritual of Chüd, which can be used to confront demons (either real or metaphorical). The haunted person must confront his demon, grab hold of it, and not let go until the demon submits to serving the person who conquers it.

The next time “Therriault” appears, Jamie grabs him as he struggles to get away. After a struggle, the demon vows to stop haunting Jamie, but in return for being allowed to escape, it must obey Jamie whenever he calls. Professor Burkett warns Jamie to never call on the demon. Should he do so, he’ll risk being overpowered again.

Two years go by, and Jamie is bothered neither by the demon nor Liz—until the day Liz comes back for him. She lost her job and now has a drug addiction; she also deals drugs. She kidnaps Jamie at gunpoint and drives him out of the city to the mansion of a powerful drug kingpin. In the mansion, Jamie finds the kingpin tied down with obvious signs of torture; Liz has been trying to get him to reveal the location of a stash of OxyContin. She wants Jamie to make the kingpin tell him where the drugs are.

Jamie can’t compel the living, so Liz shoots the kingpin and forces Jamie to make him reveal the location of the drugs. It turns out that the drugs were only a rumor, and Liz is enraged. Jamie knows that Liz intends to kill him, so when Liz is distracted, he tries to escape; Liz comes after him. Knowing he is going to be shot, Jamie calls on Therriault to save him. The demon emerges from a mirror and attacks Liz, causing her to fall down the stairs and break her neck. The demon then challenges Jamie to a second contest, but Jamie sends it back where it came from.

The adult Jamie has never called on the demon since, but he knows in his gut that the time will come when he must confront it again, and this time, he doesn’t know who will win.