“Later” by Stephen King; Titan Books, London, 2021; 272 pages, paperback, $14.95.

The narrator of Stephen King’s latest novel, “Later,” admits early on that the story’s hook is not exactly original: “So yeah. I see dead people. … But it’s not like in that movie with Bruce Willis.”

Actually, it’s quite a bit like in that movie, “The Sixth Sense.” What’s different is the point of view: The movie’s whole gimmick (spoiler alert, though this film is 22 years old) is that we see events from the dead guy’s perspective; in “Later,” the kid who sees the dead is the storyteller.

The kid’s name is Jamie Conklin. His unmarried mom, Tia, is a fairly well-off literary agent. Jamie at the age of 22 is looking back on events that took place when he was between the ages of 6 and 13. He’s a kind of glib, self-deprecating, sometimes crassly spoken, but warmly innocent guy who claims he knows nothing about writing stories, even though, true to pretty much the entire Stephen King oeuvre, his storytelling is exceptionally deft. In the earlier part of the story, Jamie and his mom, whose affectionate relationship controls the emotional tone of the book, live in an expensive New York City apartment. Tia has a girlfriend, Liz, who it so happens is a tough-ass police detective.

We are introduced to Jamie’s ability to see dead people right off the bat. Naturally, everyone he winds up having to tell about it is pretty skeptical at first. But then plain, irrefutable evidence makes them believers. Jamie keeps telling us how as a little kid he liked Liz, but warns us things get rocky with her “later.” Very rocky, it turns out. An unfortunate event leads to a cash-flow crisis in the (basically) one-woman literary agency. Meanwhile, Tia’s relationship with Liz falters due to Liz’s dark side. Jamie and his ability to see dead people become the solution to everybody’s problems, much to Jamie’s unasked-for discomfort and dismay — the dead people, who all appear to Jamie exactly as they looked at their deaths, die some pretty gruesome deaths.

Amid all this, Jamie has to come to grips with his demon, pretty much literally, and eventually there starts to be a feeling that this is not only a fairly typical Stephen King horror story, but almost an allegory of growing up. Jamie is forced to wrestle with his problems straight on, instead of trying to evade them.

The main plot resolves with Aristotelian (if grisly) fluidity, taking no sudden hairpin turn as some King novels do to get the story to a denouement. In the last pages of the book, a lingering secondary loose end is resolved in an afterthought-like way that Jamie himself seems almost indifferent to, but which some readers may find startlingly repugnant. Since Stephen King is never averse to going to some length to elicit feelings of revulsion, I imagine moral discomfort was the intended effect. But this particular detail does not adhere to much of anything else in the story, and left me, at least, wondering if there is anything too dark to treat lightly. (If you read the book on the basis of this blind tease, let me know what you think.)

“Later” is a typically fast Stephen King read, with head-on plot momentum, well-sketched characters, an authentically adolescent sense of humor, and a matter-of-fact, practically believable depiction of ghosts. This is not a “hard case crime novel” as the publisher’s imprint inaccurately suggests, but is more similar to “Desperation” than to “Mr. Mercedes.” Another good book, but in my reading, “The Colorado Kid” and “Joyland,” two other “hard case crime novels,” are more emotionally substantial, as the King oeuvre goes.

Off Radar takes note of poetry and books with Maine connections the first and third Thursdays of each month. Dana Wilde is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. Contact him at universe@dwildepress.net.

Comments are not available on this story.