Review: Stephen King shines on in ‘Doctor Sleep’

“Doctor Sleep” (Scribner), by Stephen King.

Consider this the sequel you never knew you were waiting for, but will be very glad it arrived.

Thirty-six years after introducing readers to Danny Torrance and a precognitive ability he came to call “the shine,” Stephen King is back with another creepy tale featuring the now adult Dan, a young girl named Abra and a mysterious group of soul-sucking creeps known as the True Knot.

Read “The Shining” first if you haven’t already, but don’t worry if it’s been a few years or decades. King opens with a chapter called “Prefatory Matters” and deftly catches readers up with that novel. He begins “Doctor Sleep” with Dan starting fresh in New Hampshire after years of trying to outrun his demons. “His mind was a blackboard. Booze was the eraser,” writes King. Yes, he’s an alcoholic like his late father, but unlike that mallet-wielding madman, he’s finally ready to utter those words demanded by Alcoholics Anonymous: “I need help.”

He finds it in part by becoming a mentor to 12-year-old Abra, whose shining is stronger than his own and who needs some protection from the voices and visions she can’t always turn off in her head.

Here King has a little fun with pop culture’s current obsession with vampires. Turns out those caravans of motor homes on America’s highways or parked in a circle at a campground are nothing but a front for undead demons who survive by inhaling the “steam” that telepaths and seers like Dan and Abra give off.

They’ve been around for centuries, hiding in plain sight, and feasting on folks who shine.

The leader of the True Knot is one of King’s best baddies in years — Rose O’Hara, aka Rosie the Hat — a 6-foot beauty fond of wearing a top hat and hellbent on sacrificing Abra for the survival of her species. King’s a master at writing characters you love to hate. Rose is like Drago in “Rocky IV,” sneering and overconfident, and you can’t wait for the inevitable showdown with Abra.

There are plenty of twists and turns along the way, and it all ends up at a familiar place in the Colorado mountains where Dan Torrance never thought he’d return. In keeping with tradition, King sprinkles in plenty of insider references to his fictional universe (Jerusalem’s Lot is a favorite hangout for the True Knot, for instance) that will leave fans smiling.

Bottom line: If you loved “The Shining,” you’ll love catching up with these characters. King is in fine form, making you laugh, grossing you out and spinning a tale that keeps the pages turning. If you’ve never read King, there are better starter novels in his canon, but you could do a lot worse than a double feature of “The Shining” followed by “Doctor Sleep.”




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