Duma Key is an interesting book for Stephen King. Take, for example, that it was written a couple of years after King suffered his nearly life-ending injury. Coincidentally, protagonist Edgar Freemantle suffers a life-threatening (but far more debilitating) injury. Then there are the inevitable comparisons to King's previous books and stories. I suppose that when you produce as much work as King has, there's some level of sampling to be had, but that doesn't detract for the powerful and emotional story of Duma Key. As much as it's about Edgar Freemantle overcoming the evil at work in Duma Key, it's also a story of the creative process that King has harnessed - or vice versa - for over 35 years.
King has often written about writers (Bill Denbrough in It, The Dark Half's Thad Beaumont, to name a couple), but the focus in Duma Key is art. "Art for art's sake" is a question asked, but after Edgar Freemantle loses his arm, his mobility and almost his life in a construction accident, art is prescribed to help him cope with the depression of losing not only a former life, but also his marriage. But while the old Edgar's artistic endeavors were limited to doodles on legal pads while on hold, the new Edgar is almost obsessed by the art he creates in his new home off the coast of Florida. There's more at work than a simple purple patch, however: Edgar's right arm (what's left of it) itches and burns, causing - forcing - him to paint surreal and vivid visions of things he shouldn't know, like that his daughter Ilse is seeing someone, or that his ex-wife Pam is sleeping with his former accountant.
He also paints things he doesn't understand - the silhouette of an old ship on the horizon, or a robed woman who he instinctively distrusts.
For company on lonely Duma Key, Edgar has the wise (and wise-cracking) Jerome Wireman, and the very old (and very rich) Elizabeth Eastlake, who owns Duma Key and the archipelago of which it is a part. But despite the answers and support they can offer Edgar, Wireman and Eastlake have their own demons. Something has called them all to a tiny island near Florida, and whether it gets what it wants depends on what Edgar Freemantle paints when he looks out at the sea from his home on Duma Key.
King always knows the right buttons to hit to scare the pants off us, and while Duma Key isn't his most terrifying, it's got a few gems of its own. The exploration of the dilapidated husk of Elizabeth Eastlake's original home, and the ghostly ship of the dead that is constantly moored off the coast of Duma Key make for great locations. These are places that can inspire and chill all on their own; in King's hands, the idea of a house so haunted that the foliage around it keeps out unwelcome visitors, and ventriloquists become mediums for the ghosts that saw evil unfold first-hand, becomes a structure of decaying, weeping brick and stone, hollowed-out by the misery of nearly a century ago. The idea of a ghost ship is nothing new, and the wide open spaces of Duma Key make a nice change from King's preferred setting of New England. The sea has plenty of secrets, and in Stephen King's hands, the water is never fine.
Perse will be remembered as one of King's more surprising antagonists - she's no Randall Flagg - and is a good mix with Edgar Freemantle, the self-made American businessman who has to start life anew after a run-in with one of his cranes. Jerome Wireman is passable as Edgar's sidekick, but the force is with Elizabeth Eastlake, she of the Alzheimer's Disease, who warns Edgar that the table is leaking and that Duma Key "is not a place for daughters". King's tendency to ramble does hold the book back - his exposition of Duma Key's history certainly adds a lot of flavor and background, but I'm not sure the story would have suffered without it. It's a distraction, but it doesn't stop Duma Key from being a powerful, compelling story. On the one level, it's a story of evil and the all-too-human people who have to stop it. On another, it's a story of King returning to his throne after his accident in 1999, and the muse that whispers when the clouds part and the moon shines down on Duma Key.