Though I have not read The Shining #1, and have only seen the movie adaptation a zillion times (big fan), I could not have resisted its sequel Doctor Sleep - the title alone intrigued me since I'm a bit of an insomniac. The novel picks up the story of Dan Torrance as an adult who isn't coping well with his paranormal visions- his Shining - and has taken to drowning himself in alcohol and drugs. After a series of seemingly convenient contrivances, Dan finds himself attending AA meetings and lands a job at a hospice, where he earns the nickname of Doc or "Dr. Sleep". No, not because of anything as medically accepted as hypnotic skill (ha!), but rather, as an orderly with the atypical touch of a para-psychologically equipped "Dr. Kevorkian", mentally assisting residents on to their final step peacefully. I would have regarded this theme as the primary plot, ergo the title, but SK decided to sidetrack elsewhere.
The alternate direction is thrilling even so, involving a 13 year old girl with whom Dan has a strong telepathic connection and, well, more than just a telepathic connection- relatively speaking. Abra's powers are so strong, they could register at superhero level on a paranormal Geiger counter, if there were such a thing. Her abilities put her in the path of a deranged, gypsy-type bunch of groupies, who torture their victims to death for their "essence"- they call it "steam"- the stuff they need to inhale to stay immortal. They, oddly enough, drive around in campers and Winnebagos (as if they weren't conspicuous enough). Their ring leader, known as Rose the hat, is as creepy as they come, snaggle-tooth and all. She gave me the heebie-jeebies.
Although some parts seem contrived- too conveniently planned, and the development of the "Dr. Sleep" theme fell by the wayside- neglected, SK did his King-thing with excellent imagery, explosive tension, gruesome as ever, chilling thrills. He cleverly led the whole scary pack back to where it all began. The final showdown however, was not the climactic finish I was anticipating; it was weak and lacked punch. I guess I was expecting a "Carrie in the school auditorium" moment. Abra did remind me of a younger version of "Carrie" in her psychic talent, and quite possibly I was imagining a similar scene. The "coming 'round full circle" scenario was hard to "overlook" though; the cameo role was a nice touch.
Ghostliness isn't all that SK presents here. In as much as he imagines the hereditable traits of the Shining, he plays on the inheritability of, and the recovery from, alcoholism. He says in the author's note : "The man who wrote Doctor Sleep is very different from the well-meaning alcoholic who wrote The Shining..." Judging by Doctor Sleep, SK fans, followers, campers and Winnebago-ers alike need not worry that his standard is very different , at least in a declined sort of way; he's still got a lot of creepy "steam" left...so just inhale deeply and chill. Highly recommend, even if you haven't read The Shining.