The scariest Stephen King book I have read is It, hands down. But on its heels, at a close second, is King’s more recent novel, Dr. Sleep. King is at his best drawing a picture of Evil Incarnate in both novels. In the author’s note at the end, King tells his readers that at signings, he is often asked what became of the little boy, Danny Torrance, of The Shining, a terrifying novel in its own right. This book answers that question.
Dan has hit rock bottom, involved in drug use and an alcoholic in his twenties, as he stumbles off a Greyhound bus in a little town in New Hampshire. The people he meets in town encourage him, and there he is contacted supernaturally by Abra Stone, a twelve- year-old girl whose gift of the shining is far stronger than his own. The two of them, with assistance from more minor characters, confront The True Knot, “murderous paranormals,” vampirish creatures who live off the “steam” (the shining) of young children like Abra and “the baseball boy.” One catch is that The True Knot must torture and ultimately kill these special children to feed off them.
Because Dan has taken on the job of orderly in a nursing home/hospice to make ends meet, a job no one else wants to do, he finds a way to use his “gift” for good, helping elderly end-of-life patients to transition from a suffering life to an eased death. No, not euthanasia of any kind, but a gentle, loving, vigil in the residents’ last moments that assures them it is ok to “let go.” Thus, Dan earns the title, “Dr. Death.”
Like most of Stephen King’s novels, the theme is the epic war between good and evil, and there are many hold-your-breath moments as the reader is pulled along by the story. Happily, the ending is a satisfactory one, and leaves things open for even another book about Dan and Abra if the author wishes.