Stephen King's new haunt: Florida

For once, the horror writer's new novel isn't set in Maine. In 'Duma Key,' a painter in Florida conjures up chilling prophesies on his canvases.

Leave it to Stephen King to make the Sunshine State a dark place. Florida, it turns out, encompasses plenty of horrors beyond geriatric traffic jams. King uses "Duma Key" to delve into the question of what fires the imagination and allows artists to create something from nothing.

Included in the pages of "Duma Key": dead sisters crawling from the ooze of a stormy Florida night, menacing shrubs and plants entangled around the acrid remains of a deserted mansion, and a protagonist whose love of painting pops up in the wake of a horrifying construction site accident.

The latter, Edgar Freemantle, loses his right arm but becomes a middle-age painting sensation overnight. He paints in frenzied bursts, producing a series of familiar yet disturbing – and eerily prophetic – scenes while renting a vacation home on Duma Key during his convalescence. Are the houses haunted? Only in the way cars named Christine thrash everything in sight.

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Throw in some shared telepathy, an elderly lady with some very scarlet secrets and enough American pop-culture references to choke Entertainment Weekly (where His Horror Highness serves as a comfortably cool columnist) and what you have is classic King. No need for the tired debate of whether he is or isn't a worthy writer. When it comes to spine-tingling stories capable of melding the mundane with monstrous fears, both real and imagined, nobody does it better. Grade: A–Erik Spanberg

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