It seems that when succesful authors get old, instead of writing "new novels", they just begin repeating their thematic tics, over and over again. Case in point Robert Heinlein, or case in point numero dos, Stephen King.

To begin with Duma Key is a pretty obvious redress of Bag of Bones, with art taking the place of writing, and a vacation home in Florida taking the place of a vacation home in New England. There's the evil female spirit hanging around this place and controlling locals to do its dirty work. Also Bag of Bones had only one "Magic Negro", while Duma Key has a whole two, Kamen and Nan Melda.

It's hard to understand why Stephen King continues beating this stereotype into the ground. Especially since he acknowledged that the Magic Negroes in The Shining and The Stand were hoary archetypes. In Duma Key, he ladles in paragraphs about race and racial stereotypes, and then brings in two black characters with semi-magical insights whose only purpose is to guide the main character in his spiritual quest. He even described Kamen as a god and his lips as totemic. Please nigga.

But Duma Key shifts locales, but it's essentially the same Stephen King novel he's been writing for a while now. First there's the morbidly depressed narrator who has suffered a tragic loss, this is a mode that King has been stuck in for a while, see Insomnia, Bag of Bones, Lisey's Story.

Then there's the haunted locale with a strange history of tragedy and loss going back a few generations. The Shining, Bag of Bones, hell pretty much anything set in Castle Rock. And of course there's the "twist" involving the young girl who dies tragically. King has really beaten this cliche into the ground with Wizard and Glass, Cell, Bag of Bones, etc.

Despite all this Duma Key is not really a bad novel, at least not in setup. For a while now King has been much better at setting up the location, atmosphere and characters... than he has at actually delivering on the spooky plot. Which suggests he might just want to make the leap to mainstream novelist and stick to it. Duma Key is at its strongest with Edgar adapting to the new environment and dealing with his loss. It's at its weakest when the boogeyman comes around, and maybe that's because King is replaying all his old tricks and we know them all by now.

Lately King has been trying to shift his stories a bit, Lisey's Story and Duma Key, both look like an attempted break with the usual King novel, only to wind up stuck on the same King plot cliches. It's time for him to either make a real break, one way or another.