Review: Doctor Sleep / Author: Stephen King / Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton / Release Date: Out Now
Stephen King returns to his best creation to date (although 'Salem's Lot, Misery or Pet Semetary fans might have something to say about that) with Doctor Sleep, the much anticipated sequel to The Shining. To say that expectations are high is an understatement, especially given that King is not a man known for his sequels. Can Doctor Sleep possibly live up to that weight of expectation, or does the book's effect mimic its title?
Thankfully, Doctor Sleep finds King on fine form, even if little Danny Torrance isn't in such a good place throughout. Dad dead (in fairly different circumstances from those of the controversial Kubrick adaptation), Dan Torrance grows up to be a troubled, traumatised young man. It doesn't take him long to follow in his father's footsteps, as he learns that the dreaded drink dulls both the shining and his memories of that fateful winter at the Overlook hotel. Settling down in a sleepy New Hampshire town some years later, Dan manages to kick the booze, hold down a steady job and finally begin to make peace with his personal demons. And then gifted young Abra Stone comes calling, reigniting Dan's troubles and dragging him into the midst of a battle between good and (ancient) evil.
With Doctor Sleep we have a fine story on two levels – it's both a great sequel to The Shining (Dick Hallorann, Wendy Torrance and several of the Overlook guests are revisited here) and a ripping yarn in its own right. Fans of the original novel will enjoy the references and callbacks to the events of The Shining, while more casual readers should be thrilled by the classic King tale of good-hearted but flawed all-American folk fighting psychic vampires. True, King lays it on a little thick with the AA stuff, but at least here we're presented with his most plausible alcoholic since Jack Torrance – we'd almost be surprised if Danny didn't turn out to be a boozehound – and it's so markedly different from its predecessor that we could never accuse King of revisiting the characters for a quick buck or lazy book. The good guys are likeable, interesting and believable; the villains nasty yet compelling. An RV-riding gang of innocent-looking pensioners, The True Knot, are the best Stephen King villains in years.
Likewise, Doctor Sleep is the best King book since Under the Dome. He's faltered a little in recent years (even Under the Dome suffered from being far too long, with a stupid ending) but Doctor Sleep is a fantastic return to form. It's fast-paced, just the right length and – crucially – properly chilling at times. Detractors of the author may not be so convinced – those old King turns of phrase and his very American style are as strong as they've ever been – but everyone else should celebrate, for this is one horror sequel which mostly manages to live up to the hype.