by: Stephen King
Genre: Horror, Drama, Supernatural
Four years after the sudden death of his beloved wife, Jo, suspense novelist Michael Noonan returns to their summer home on Dark Score Lake. Upon arriving in the small Maine town, Mike finds he may not be alone in the lakeside retreat known as Sara Laughs. He hears phantom crying in the night, receives messages on his refrigerator, and has ghostly encounters in his dreams. After a chance encounter with young, twenty-one-year-old Mattie Devore and her three-year-old daughter, Kyra, Mike finds himself dragged into the middle of a custody battle, both by Mattie's ill-intentioned father-in-law and the spirits of Sara Laughs. What secrets does Dark Score Lake hold and why do the spirits want him to help Mattie?
I enjoyed this novel. While it has horror aspects in relation to the hauntings and the evil within some human beings, the story focuses more on the character development and relationships. For the first two thirds of the novel, the main focus is Mike's battle with writer's block, his grief over the loss of his wife, and the custody battle between Mattie and Max Devore. The more involved Mike becomes, the more he begins to fall for Mattie and seems to step easily into the father figure role when spending time with Kyra. The ghostly happenings serve as a connection between them, and it isn't until tragedy strikes that the horror really begins.
The characters are well-rounded and fleshed out, they have histories and unique characteristics. The good guys are relatable and likeable, while the villains are truly twisted and evil. Mike serves as a great narrator, he's relatable, intelligent and witty, with a softer side he's not afraid to show. He decides to help Mattie when the rest of the town has turned against her. He's so good with Kyra, and despite the age gap, the reader ends up wanting him and Mattie to end up together. Mattie Devore seems like a fun and loving mother, who is doing everything she can to raise a toddler on her own. She doesn't trust easily and does not like to accept charity from anyone. She is clearly being persecuted by Max for no good reason and it's hard not to love her or her adorable daughter Kyra. These three are the center focus of the story, and while the rest of the characters were well-written, these three are the ones that stand out.
A key theme in this novel is the enduring bonds of love; bonds that last long after death. This theme keeps Jo alive, despite her death in chapter 1, and enables her to protect Mike as he comes closer to revealing the dark secrets of TR-90. However, hate and rage can also create bonds that endure through death and generations, and this powerfully negative energy is exactly what Jo is determined to protect Mike from.
At first the only negative energy Mike has to deal with is in human form as Max Devore harasses and even assaults him when he gets in the way of Max getting custody of Kyra. The scene where Max and Rogette, two seemingly unlikely assailants have Mike trapped out in the lake, attempting to drown him, is one that had me clinging to my book, unable to put it down until I knew he was safe. This scene is the turning point for the novel, and the suspense continues until the final act. As the human behavior becomes more violent, the paranormal activity inside Sara Laughs intensifies, and as the novel reaches its climax, the reader follows Mike as he puts together the connection between the haunting of Sara Laughs and the happenings in the lives of Mattie and Kyra Devore.
I really did enjoy this novel and loved the combination of ghost story and the fairly accurate portrayal of a custody battle. I felt for the characters and fell in love with them, especially Mattie, Mike, Jo and Kyra. However, it did lag a little in the middle of the novel before picking up speed again, so that may deter a few readers. Curious to see how it ended, however, I plugged through and ended up with a fairly satisfying ending. My only other complaint is that we don't find out what happened to Romeo Bissonette and George Kennedy after they both incur wounds in a shoot out. As their wounds didn't appear fatal, the reader can assume they made it out okay, but it still would be nice to know for sure.
Overall, despite a couple minor draw backs, this is a decent, entertaining read, delving more into human relationships than the horror aspects of the haunting of Sara Laughs. If you're looking for a lot of scares, this novel may not be for you. However, if you enjoy lots of suspense and character development, and don't mind that the ghostly activity takes a backseat to human interaction, you may enjoy this book as much as I did. This book is as much about the evil that lies in the hearts of humanity as it is about the dangers of the paranormal world.