Review: Supernatural: Bone Key

Supernatural: Bone Key by Keith R. A. DeCandido

Review by Paula R. Stiles

DeCandido, Keith R.A. Supernatural: Bone Key. New York: HarperEntertainment, 2007. 290pp. US $7.99/CAN $8.99. ISBN: 978-0-06-143503-4.

I was going to say that Supernatural: Bone Key was probably the closest we could expect to get to a good bit of official Supernatural fiction until I got hold of John Winchester’s Journal, which really is a good bit of official Supernatural fiction.

That said, Bone Key is a pretty decent story, both as a horror novel and as a show tie-in. Not perfect, but better than Nevermore and Witch’s Canyon. It’s the shortest of the first three and, therefore, a quick and breezy read. DeCandido seems to have listened to fan criticisms of Nevermore and cut way down on the musical discursions and annoying side characters. I also like the area, having read some seriously freaky folklore about south Florida. And there are attempts at serious character development for both brothers. Plus, Dean finally gets lucky, which is a nice change from his uncharacteristically bad luck with the opposite sex in the previous two books. Bobby even shows up and helps out.

Bone Key starts with some gruesome scene-setting in Key West while the boys celebrate New Year’s Eve thousands of miles away at Bobby’s. It’s about halfway through season three, so this is Dean’s last year before he goes Hellbound. Dean is still in “party like it’s 1999” mode and Sam is getting increasingly desperate about breaking Dean’s deal.

A call on Dad’s cell phone from an old stoner friend in Key West (Cayo Hueso -“Bone Key” – in Spanish) fills them in on the murders we see in the second prologue (yeah, there are two prologues). This gives Dean an excuse to take off for sunnier climes, anxious baby brother in tow. Once down there, the brothers find themselves in the middle of a nasty, complicated case involving two demons on vacation from the Hellgate that opened up at the end of season two and a superpowered Native American spirit called “The Last Calusa”. Both sides are highly dangerous. Things get worse when Sam is trapped with a bunch of civilians at a construction site (being built over an old Indian Burial Ground, naturally) by the Last Calusa. Dean is forced to call Bobby in – but not before he also has to make a really ugly alliance that could get him overkilled when he has to channel half the island’s dead people.

So, what are the rough spots? Well, for a start, I did some research on the Calusa for a script last year and it doesn’t quite jibe with this book. The Calusa were a real tribe and they really did dominate southern Florida and the Keys before they were decimated in the 17th and 18th centuries by disease and raids by other tribes, just as the book says. However, instead of extrapolating from what we know of Calusa religion/mythology (like the concept of the three souls), the author cobbles together a whole lot of Evil Indian Burial Ground/Native American Revenge clichés, instead. Which is too bad because the stuff about the three souls, from what I’ve read of the local folklore, has contributed to all sorts of disturbing Floridian legends of the shadow-person variety. DeCandido’s version is okay, but it’s not half as scary as the original source material.

And is it really necessary to have white characters continue to call Evil Native American Spirit characters, “Tonto”, these days? That joke was sad the first time. Nowadays, it has enough moss on it to cover the Arctic. It’s 2009, already. Find another racially-inappropriate insult.

Another problem is not really the author’s fault. His demons are mean and snarky and yadda, yadda, yadda, just as they are on the show. It’s not his fault that also makes them irritating. I’ve often read interviews of the show’s writers where they’ve waxed poetical about how much fun it is to write demons and how it brings out their “inner smartass”. Which is all very nice, but as a lifelong recovering smartass who frequently falls off the wagon, I don’t think that’s what quite comes across. Instead, the demons of Supernatural seem like those bullies on the playground whose idea of scintillating wit was to distort their targets’ names into insults and accuse them of being gay long before either party had a clue what that meant.

Maybe the writers really did intend demons to be the kind of people that make you realize winning in life is worth being a social loser in school when you meet them ten years later while they’re checking out your groceries at the local Quickie Mart. But somehow, I doubt it. That’s not exactly scary. Fedra and Alberto are pretty frightening when they’re cutting coeds’ throats in the parking lot off Duval Street, rather less so when they’re calling Dean various demonic versions of “shortbus”.

Alas, while the author cuts way down on the things that annoyed in Nevermore, they don’t quite go away. Yaphet and the lesbian couple who own the B&B where Sam and Dean stay aren’t too bad (despite an inexplicable obsession with calling Dean “Deano”). And the victims (mostly) don’t overstay their bloody introductions/departures. Ghostly Captain Naylor, however, is annoying as all get-out and ends up having little to do with the overall plot. Plus, a Native American deputy who is a less-annoying version of McBain from Nevermore is used for expositional purposes and then unceremoniously dropped halfway through. The author could have cut most of the “quirky” local colour and beefed up characters that mattered (and were interesting), like a cat-hating ghost of Ernest Hemingway and a creepy devil doll named “Raymond”.

Also, some of the descriptions of the local bands where Sam and Dean do “research” and Dean picks up a few lovely ladies go on too long. The author couldn’t resist including a soundtrack at the back of the book that didn’t endear me to him when he explicitly excluded Jimmy Buffett.

It’s a small caveat at the end because it is nice to see Dean finally (and in character) get laid, but having it mostly appear “offscreen” is a bit frustrating. Hey, I don’t expect porn from a tie-in, but at least give me some snogging. And I have to warn the Samfans that, while we see Sam do a lot of research, he’s relatively less important in the story than Dean. A lot less. In fact, he spends a large section of the novel stuck in the construction site with a bunch of law enforcement officers while Dean and Bobby run around trying to save him.

Still, Bone Key is the closest you’re likely to see the boys get to Florida in the show (even though Delta in Greater Vancouver imitates Florida rather well). And it’s a fun, fast read with the brothers in character, for once. If you’re looking for a Supernatural fix over the long, hot summer, check it out.

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