The story is set in Key West, Florida. While celebrating New Year’s Day with Bobby, an old friend calls Sam and Dean to inform them that tourists are being mysteriously killed. Aware of the supernatural world, their friend also alerts them to a spike in the local spirit activity. Dean jumps at the chance to check out the report, since it gives him an excuse to hit the sunny beaches and casual bars of the Keys before his demon deal comes due.
The background setting of Key West actually gave this book its distinctiveness. It is a welcome change from the standard roadside motels and farm fields most often frequented by the brothers. Open air bars, sandy beaches at sunset, B&B bungalows and a variety of other warm, alluring island spots provided an exotic venue that Vancouver and its portrayed version of Main Street America can’t duplicate. The island’s history also provided realistic lore for the many vengeful spirits the boys ended up fighting. While this doesn’t qualify as historical fiction, most readers will recognize enough of the references to relate to and accept the characters. So the location gave the story its flavor, made it more believable and was a major component of my enjoyment.
Besides the interesting setting, the second thing that was noticeably unique about this book was the author’s attention to logical details. Action sequences, characters’ movements and plot conclusions were meticulously envisioned. Potential flaws were anticipated and addressed before the reader could question feasibility. For example, one of the sentences in the middle of a climactic action scene was, “Sam dug his set of keys out of his pocket and opened the Impala’s trunk”. It makes sense that Sam would have his own set of keys after all the time the brothers have spent in the car. Of course they wouldn’t only have one set of keys! On TV, though, we’ve only seen Dean’s keys. Rather than gloss over the logistical problem of “How did Sam get the car keys if Dean always has them?” the reader was given a tiny detail that made the whole thing plausible. This intricate imaging made fictional, supernatural events a little more believable and realistic.
There was also some welcome, well-placed humor in the story. I laughed out loud as Dean negotiated with a “friendly” spirit who was haunting his room. They banter back and forth, much the same way Dean and Castiel would later share humorous moments. Nice to see the lighter side of Dean once in a while.
Another appealing facet of this story was the strength of the brother’s bond. While enduring the non-stop heartbreak of season nine, it was nice to revisit the world where Sam and Dean were the most important people in each other’s lives. The story captured the raw, unbreakable connection that just kept building in season three when Dean’s fear of going to Hell and Sam’s fear of losing his brother drew them closer together. The climax of Bone Key included twelve pages that focused on their bond. It was poignant, familiar and emotionally satisfying.
The climatic ending was without a doubt the best part of the book. The final confrontation with the spirit(s) was larger than life. It was imaginative, colorful, dramatic and exciting. It pulled together the stories of many of the supporting characters. It saved the book from mediocrity.
So what kept this book from being an outstanding novel? First, it took a painfully long time to set up the story. The first third of the book was spent on backstories and establishing the hunt. Dean’s history with the people and places of Key West. The backgrounds of the victims and the circumstances surrounding their demise. Sam coming up to speed on the area. Bobby’s research. The first action sequence involving Sam and Dean didn’t happen until page 99! Establishing the context was interesting and well written but it slowed the pace of the story.
The second thing about the book that I didn’t like was that it actually scared me! The ghost hauntings and murders made me afraid of the dark (leisure reading for me is always after “lights out”, aided only by my small book light)! It is reasonable to expect to be on-edge when reading a book about the supernatural, and I suppose that would make the book more enjoyable for some. I, however, had to stop reading several times in the first half of the book because I was afraid I wouldn’t go to sleep if I kept going! That’s doesn’t happen often when I’m reading about Sam and Dean!
Lastly, as I’ve seen in some of the other tie-in books I’ve read, the climatic action ended very abruptly. As soon as Sam and Dean were victorious, the scene ended. I expected and wanted substantially more debriefing between the characters. It needed time for the brothers to check on each other, dialogue with witnesses and explain what happened to friends. They talked in the Impala as they drove away but it left a lot of things up in the air. Again, it was like the book was only supposed to be a certain number of pages, or had to be done by a certain deadline. The beginning of the book took its time, but as the publication deadline or the maximum number of pages loomed close, everything was wrapped up too quickly.
Rating: This book started out slowly, but built to a great finish, so I liked it more as I went along. It wasn’t ground breaking, but it wasn’t bad either. The writing was precise, but most of it was not emotionally engaging (with the exception of the climax as I described above). I would have liked the great action scene at the end to have been longer. Overall, it was an enjoyable read so I give it a 7 out of 10.
To put it in perspective, the following chart shows all the tie-in Sam and Dean stories, according to the customer ratings given on Amazon.com (as of the date of this post, on a 5 point scale). The books I have read are bolded, with links provided to my other reviews. Nate Winchester’s review of all the books can be found here.
|The Roads Not Taken (2013)
Carved in Flesh (2013)
Fresh Meat (2012)
Night Terror (2011)
Coyote’s Kiss (2011)
Bone Key (2008)
Witch’s Canyon (2007)
|Rite of Passage (2012)
War of the Sons (2010)
The Unholy Cause (2010)
Heart of the Dragon (2010)
|One Year Gone (2011)||Nevermore (2007)|
Next book on my night stand? Witch’s Canyon.