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Duma Key    by Stephen King order for
Duma Key
by Stephen King
Order:  USA  Can
Scribner, 2008 (2008)
Hardcover, CD
* * *   Reviewed by Tim Davis

Hurry, hurry, hurry! Step right up and waste no time in finding yourself your very own copy of Stephen King's latest novel, the refreshingly brilliant Duma Key, and meet one of the horror-and-terror master's most compelling protagonists, Edgar Freemantle.

Edgar is a husband, father of two beautiful college-age daughters, and a wealthy building contractor in Minneapolis. However, life for Edgar changes terribly when he is nearly fatally injured in a motor vehicle accident. Having suffered severe head and eye trauma, leg and hip injuries, and the loss of an arm, Edgar becomes increasingly and alarmingly angry, violent, and suicidal on the long road to rehabilitation and recovery. Then Edgar suffers a huge emotional setback when his fearful wife of twenty-five years leaves him, and he thinks life is 'as bad as it's going to get.'

Meanwhile, reluctantly responding to advice from a psychologist, Edgar agrees that it is time to try a 'fresh start' in a new place where he can rest and heal. So, turning his back on virtually everything in Minneapolis (except his daughters), Edgar moves to Duma Key, 'an almost empty island in the sun' that is hidden away on Florida's west coast. There are, however, only two other occupants on the island, an elderly woman named Elizabeth Westlake - a spellbinding woman whose tragic life is inextricably tied to the island's enigmatic history - and her caretaker, the complicated and charming Jerome Wireman - a former attorney whose own near death experiences and desperate recovery are profoundly similar to Edgar's.

And so it is there on beautiful but primitive Duma Key, while further following his psychologist's advice and living alone in the large rental home he dubs Big Pink, that Edgar turns to art as a therapeutic pastime. Much to his and everyone else's surprise, Edgar discovers that he has a real and unique talent for drawing and painting. In fact, Edgar's artistic experiments seem to represent something like a prescient and surreal view of the past, present, and future. Perhaps - because of the accident, thinks Edgar - he has been given a special gift: the ability to see things and the actual ability to affect changes and events through art.

On the other hand, as Edgar is about to discover, perhaps something else on Duma Key (perhaps a seductive muse, a meddlesome daemon, or something more pernicious) is the source of his ineffable artistic powers. And as Edgar and his new friend Wireman are about to realize, something dark, terrifying, and murderous has made - and continues to make - Duma Key a very dangerous place.

With the sources and durability of creativity - and the amazing powers of love and friendship - as the novel's central themes, Duma Key is the long overdue exemplary showcase for Stephen King's legendary powers. Some of King's recent offerings have been (for me at least) unsuccessful disappointments; however, with its exquisite and poignant characterizations, its flawlessly paced narrative, and its chilling excursions into King's trademark world of nightmarish terrors, Duma Key is an absolute winner! Worthy of being included in a short list of the best ten of his dozens of works, this is vintage Stephen King in a mature and masterful novel.

2nd Review by Alex Telander:

Most Stephen King fans will admit that the renowned horror writer's last couple of novels, while selling well, have not been up to his usual high standard; one might even go so far as to use the term mediocre, and don't get me started on Cell. Thankfully, with the arrival of Duma Key, the slate has been wiped clean and the master of horror is back! King's first novel set in his alternate home of Florida weighs in at over six hundred pages. While it reveals a more laid-back and mature author, with the terrifying days of The Tommyknockers and It perhaps over, Duma Key is nevertheless an incredibly well written novel with deep and complex characters, and a world that is complicated but very real.

Enter Edgar Freemantle, an entrepreneur who started a construction company and developed it into a multi-million dollar business. A loving husband with two adult daughters, he is involved in a freak on-site accident that should have killed him, but leaves him missing his right arm, with a couple of slowly healing broken ribs, and a damaged mind that causes outbursts of anger and violence. Freemantle's marriage falls apart, leaving him an angry, empty shell. Seeking escape, he leases a beautiful house on the island of Duma Key. Watching the breathtaking sunsets, Freemantle decides to try his hand as an artist, having sketched a little throughout his life. The more he works, the better he gets, soon switching to paints and canvasses; and painting satisfies the seemingly insatiable itch in his missing right arm. Freemantle portrays sunsets and the beautiful coastline, with the occasional abstract object added in. He is eventually tagged as an American Primitive and at his first gallery showing, all works listed for sale are sold.

But beneath the art is a sinister plot at work, because this is after all a Stephen King novel. Freemantle discovers a psychic ability, painting items he should know nothing about, as well as events that come to fruition, such as the suicide of a serial killer. And there's something wrong with the sold paintings: death follows them. The plot thickens, deepens, and becomes darker as the enigmatic history of Duma Key is discovered. It seems Freemantle isn't the only person to have come to the island with a fragile mind and a special ability expressed through art. And the south side of the island has become an overgrown and seemingly impenetrable jungle. When Freemantle and his daughter Ilse headed in that direction, Ilse immediately became nauseous, while Freemantle felt the insatiable familiar itch grow to an unstoppable buzzing; driving back north, their ailments disappeared. Clearly something evil and powerful doesn't want them at to the south of the island.

Duma Key is not just a novel for fans, but a cathartic response from King to his near-death accident in 1999; no doubt he relived his agonizing recovery while writing about Freemantle, and yet it is because of this firsthand experience, that Duma Key feels personal and empathetic. This is a welcome return of the great horror writer. An extra development of character and setting - that King seems to have discovered in his later years - makes Duma Key one of his best, and one of my personal favorites.

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