stephen king

King: Dumah Key

Beware of what he paints!

Today I want to talk to you about Dumah Key, which was released in 2008 by Scribner and is one of my favourite King novels


The novel opens with Edgar Freemantle, a well-off building contractor, discussing a time when he was almost being killed in an on-site accident. He survived the incident but suffered the loss of an arm and a severe head injury. He talks about how difficult his recovery was and how the head injury changed his personality for the worse and caused his wife to divorce him.

Edgar has moved to the island of Dumah Key, to rekindle his old hobby of drawing, to aid in his recovery. He hired Jack as an assistant to carry out shopping etc and meets the island’s residents, Elizabeth, an heiress who owns most of the island and is in the final stages of dementia. Jerome, Elizabeth’s aide, who was once an attorney but whose loss of his wife and children lead him to suffer with very poor mental health resulting in attempting suicide vi gunshot which he survived but not without issue.  

As Edgar pursues his art, weird spooky shenanigans happen. Edgar’s paints capture psychic visions, including but not limited to his ex-wife’s romantic affair and his younger daughter Ilse’s fleeting marital engagement. Edgar uses his art-powers to manipulate the world around him, doing things like healing Jerome. 

Edgar’s daughter visits and they see a strange part of the island where colours etc are more vivid than they should be. Edgar’s daughter gets very sick after this, and Elizabeth warns Edgar that Dumah Key has a thing for daughters. She also tells him to sell his painting to people who live far away to avoid concentrating the power.

Turns out the island has a thing for inspiring artists and giving people with brain injuries psychic powers. Edgar paints a series of images where a ship and red cloaked passenger get closer and closer to the island. Elizabeth, who is worsening, asks Edgar if he has painted the ship yet. Edgar gets more and more recognition for his art and hosts an exhibition getting fame and a large amount of money. Elizabeth attends and, on seeing the painting of the ship, has a disturbing episode referencing a sister who is growing more powerful. She dies after this episode.

We get a series of flashbacks explaining how when she was young Elizabeth suffered a debilitating head injury and took to drawing. She started talking to an unseen person called Perse who helped her, and her father unearth a pile of ship wreckage revealing a red cloaked doll. Elizabeth kept working with Perse until she got too afraid of the dark the figure was inflicting and rebelled, causing her sisters to drown. Elizabeth and her nursemaid subdue Perse using the doll. 

Edgar starts experiencing more supernatural shenanigans and becomes aware that anyone who has one of his paintings either dies or is driven to murder because of Perse. Edgar’s daughter is such a victim. Edgar, Jack, and Jerome eventually manage to get to the old mansion where Elizabeth grew up and locate the Perse doll, which was imprisoned in fresh water, but the container has leaked hence the return. The trio manage to contain it and take the new container to a freshwater lake and drop it inside. 

Edgar paints a final image of a tropical storm destroying Dumah Key.

My Thoughts – General 

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I loved this book; it was one I first heard on Audiobook back at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. It had been on my to read list for an age and I finally got round to it when I started taking my daily exercise during the pandemic. It was wonderful to walk along the beach listening to this. 

I love the new and interesting take on the haunted doll trope. The change from the doll being something to flee to being a conduit, is a nice change of pace.  

My thoughts – Characters 

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All of the characters are well put together. Not all of them develop through the story but not all characters have to be dynamic, static characters are just fine. The act in a way that is believable and understandable given the situations they find themselves in and their own mental or physical abilities. They are well rounded where they need to be with a depth and sophistication that I’ve come to expect from a seasoned writer like King. 

I felt I could connect and emphasis with the characters. Their motivations were clear and realistic, while their emotions were reasonable and came across as valid. 

Elizabeth was my favourite; I seem to have a soft spot for characters with dementia. 

My Thoughts – Setting 

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Dumah Key is a character all and of itself. I hope one day to write settings like this myself. An iconic setting where it feels the story simply couldn’t have happened elsewhere. With enough description that you can picture the landscape and get a feel for the atmosphere, but not so much that you become bogged down and bored. 

It was a wonderfully crafted location, creepy where it needed to be, but not so creepy that you wonder why people live there. 

My Thoughts – Plot 

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Overall, the plot was well constructed and well-paced. At no point was I tempted to put the book down, but I also did not feel that the plot was rushing to be concluded. I often find that King paces his stories well. 

The story was suspenseful because of the mystery element and the supernatural element. With clear stakes, especially when the threat was made towards Edgar’s daughter. The threat was eventually carried out as well, which was a nice, well set up pay off. 

I certainly did not find the plot predictable, including the doll and the ghost ship were not something I was expecting and I found their inclusion to be gripping. Parts of the story are well foreshadowed, but as mentioned, the death of Edgar’s daughter still surprised me a bit as I did not expect King to follow through. I thought that was going to be the threat we circumvented. 

Overall, a wonderful novel and one I would recommend if you enjoy King in any way or form. 

I'd love to hear what you think, please comment below.

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