It sounds cruel to say this, but I kind of miss the old coke-snorting alcoholic who wrote Cujo
and The Shining
and The Dead Zone
and a lot of those scary-ass short stories in Skeleton Crew
and Night Shift
, et al. That doesn't mean I'm not glad that Stephen King sobered up and no doubt extended his life span and writing career considerably. But his older books had a certain unhinged
quality about them. He wrote straight-up horror stories with monsters and ghosts or truly freaky-ass aliens where any kind of gory, crazy shit could happen, and they were genuinely scary.
His later novels are the work of a more mature writer, and it's clear that they're thought out a little more by a writer who is more in command of his own id. (Compare with his Richard Bachman books, where his id was completely off the chain.)
In Duma Key
, the main character is Edgar Freemantle, a guy who got rich in construction before a horrific crane accident left him with brain damage and missing one arm. In the aftermath of the accident, his marriage falls apart. He moves to Florida to try to pick up the pieces of himself, and discovers a previously unrevealed, one might even say, supernatural
, gift for painting. You know supernatural "gifts" in King stories never turn out well...Duma Key
felt like a visit back to the old King, but like most nostalgic visits, it's with the perspective of age. The plot takes a while to get underway, King sets up his characters more carefully, and the monsters don't come out from under the bed right away. The book never quite goes flat-out crazy like, say, Pet Sematary
, but there's a bit of King's old Lovecraftian love, a Ship of the Damned, ancient secrets hidden in spooky houses, hallucinations and ghosts that will fucking kill you, and a troubled protagonist that you sympathize with even though he's kind of a dick.
You can kind of tell this is a late-career King book because he only delivers one or two real gut-punches in the way of character deaths, whereas the old King would have left bodies all over the place. But it's still a spooky and effective creeper, even if the "band of brothers facing down the Big Bad" is also something we've seen from King many times before.
Maybe not on a par with my favorite Kings, but one of my favorites of recent years.