Where to begin?
This is my favorite King book so far. And that's really saying a lot, because I like a lot of King stuff.
The strength of Bag of Bones (a completely appropriate title on so many levels once you get through it), lies in its completely realistic starting point. King manages to capture the loss and pain of a loved one in such stark terms that I found myself with nightmares of my own. Not supernatural ones, the kind that go away as soon as you push the covers off and brush your teeth, but the potential ones that stick with you and make you feel crummy all day long. Believe it or not, that was actually a compliment...
Anyway, I don't think I've read a better crafted haunted house story. Usually this genre is so full of cliche that it's really lost its power and magic, but King's focus is not the haunting in that particular sense. The haunting he focuses on is how memories haunt and hamstring us every day of our lives, and that's what makes the novel so deep. If you took all the ghost stuff out, it's still powerfully compelling fiction. Most of the supernatural stuff is simply sprinkled in at appropriate junctures to scare the living crap out of you. King waits until you forget this is a ghost story before unleashing the demons from his fertile imagination. He spends a hundred pages elaborating on the pain of losing a wife before he hints at her ghost, he delves into the very human evil of Max Devore before giving you a glimpse at the evil presence that has drawn all of his characters to Sara Laughs. And that's what makes it scary.
The novel is full of suspense, and not the cheap kind either. Usually, the avid reader doesn't have much trouble spotting misdirection or picking up on foreshadowing, but King really does manage to keep the air of mystery sealed pretty tight as he zig-zags towards a very unexpected series of concluding events.
On top of plot and pacing mastery, King also manages to infuse a wealth of literary allusions that enrich the story and its structure, making references from Melville to Bradbury, without making the insertions pretentious or overly academic.
Bag of Bones showcases King's strengths as an author like no other of his works, at least so far. Damn the man, now I have to go on a Dark Tower binge...