Select one of the keywords
Black House    by Stephen King & Peter Straub order for
Black House
by Stephen King
Order:  USA  Can
Ballantine, 2002 (2001)
Hardcover, Paperback, Audio, e-Book

Read an Excerpt

* * *   Reviewed by Anise Hollingshead

Little Jacky Sawyer isn't so little anymore, he's in his thirties and doesn't remember his quest to save his mother when he was twelve. Convinced that the inexplicable thoughts and dreams which have begun to haunt him are a result of job-related stress, he's quit his career as a homicide detective with the LAPD and moved to a small town in Wisconsin. It's not so easy to escape your past, though, especially in a horror novel.

Stephen King and Peter Straub have joined forces again in this sequel to The Talisman, which was a story about a young boy's journey to save the lives of his mother and her counterpart in a parellel universe called 'The Territories'. Only twelve years old, Jack Sawyer had to travel across the continent of America from the East Coast to the West Coast with a minimum of help from friends from either world, avoiding ever escalating attacks from his dead father's business partner, who could also travel in both worlds. King and Straub have revisited this tale twenty years later in a small town that is experiencing a horrible crisis.

A string of incredibly nasty child murders has the town of French Landing, Wisconsin, in its tow. The police force is out of its league, the locals are getting more frightened and a tabloid news reporter is stoking up the pressure. The police chief has worked with Jack Sawyer in the past when Jack was still with the LAPD and is trying his utmost to persuade him to help with the investigation, but Jack refuses, a response that has his friends perplexed. Ultimately, though, Jack can't ignore the spooky messages he keeps getting from his friends in the Territories that his help is needed once again. Somehow, the deaths are connected to the struggles to keep balance in all the worlds connected to the Dark Tower, not just Earth and the Territories.

Black House is peopled with surprisingly rich characters. Surprising, because in most of King's and Straub's novels, the story takes precedence over the people. King and Straub are a good team: Straub's elegance balances King's crudeness, and King's forthright language tempers Straub's penchant for understatement. The blind radio personality who is equally comfortable portraying a 'good ole boy', a big band leader and an alternative music guru is easily the most fascinating character in the book. Not far behind are the band of intellectual bikers who've ditched academia for beer brewing, and of course, the murderer himself, an old man who's suffering from Alzheimers when he's not empowered by a flunky from the Territories.

Disappointing, though, is the slight flatness of Jack himself when compared to these other, lesser entities. The world of the Territories is also somewhat missing in detail in this sequel, fans of The Talisman may feel cheated out of more information on Wolfs and other denizens of this parallel universe. However, there are plenty of allusions to the Dark Tower and other King trademarks, plus lots of tie-ins to classics of music and literature (as in the play on words of the title Black House to the Dicken's novel Bleak House, which Jack is currently reading to his blind friend.)

Black House is a mesmerizing novel that will engross most readers. The introduction is very long, however, and is told in a voyeristic approach with the reader floating above the town and spying on the residents. The appeal of the first part of the book will depend on individual taste solely - I enjoyed it; my husband thought it overlong. Some story elements I found unbelievable, as when the father of the latest victim unhesitatingly accepts Jack's story of the Territories and its connection to his son's disappearance and wife's pyschotic behavior, or the fact that four men who attended college together all just happen to be underground intellectuals who love the biker lifestyle and beer (not necessarily in that order) and have banded together to devote their lives to inventing the perfect beer recipe at a local brewery.

Other descriptions are very believable, though, as in Jack's understandable reluctance to jump back into his past, the interplay between the residents and the police force and the lengths to which the reporter will go for a story. The details of the gruesome murders, the atmosphere of French Landing and the role the Black House plays in the intertwined worlds are highly effective and gripping. I did find the ending a trifle flat after all the excitement, but on the whole, Black House delivers the goods.

Note: Opinions expressed in reviews and articles on this site are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of BookLoons.

Find more Fantasy books on our Shelves or in our book Reviews