Black House by Stephen King & Peter Straub

November 9, 2012

Plot summary (from the publisher): Twenty years ago, a boy named Jack Sawyer traveled to a parallel universe called the Territories to save his mother and her “Twinner” from an agonizing death that would have brought cataclysm to the other world. Now Jack is a retired Los Angeles homicide detective living in the nearly nonexistent hamlet of Tamarack, Wisconsin. He has no recollection of his adventures in the Territories, and he was compelled to leave the police force when an odd, happenstance event threatened to awaken those memories.

When a series of gruesome murders occur in western Wisconsin that are reminiscent of those committed several decades earlier, Jack’s buddy, the local chief of police, begs Jack to help find him. But are these new killings merely the work of a disturbed individual, or has a mysterious and malignant force been unleashed in this quiet town? What causes Jack’s inexplicable waking dreams—if that is what they are—of robins’ eggs and red feathers? It’s almost as if someone is trying to tell him something. As this cryptic message becomes increasingly impossible to ignore, Jack is drawn back to the Territories and to his own hidden past, where he may find the strength to enter a terrifying house at the end of a deserted tract of forest—only to encounter the obscene and ferocious evils sheltered within it.

Warning: MAJOR Spoilers below!

Liked:

  • It’d been a while since I’d read any Stephen King, but I was able to recognize his touches everywhere (even though this was a collaboration). The repeated words (“slippage”, “The Sheik, the Shake, the Shook”, etc.), the touch of the supernatural, grownups doing unspeakable things to kids… It was like I never left!
  • Although there were many references to the Talisman, it’s not absolutely necessary to have read and remembered that book in order to enjoy this one. I didn’t remember anything except the name Jack Sawyer and the character’s ability to “flip” between worlds, but I was still able to get through this book. Sure, it probably would have enhanced my experience to recall every detail of the Talisman, but again, that’s not necessary.
  • King has a knack for creating great minor characters — sort of like Charles Dickens (not really comparing the two; but they both do minor characters well). These folks are memorable and fully fleshed out. From the motorcycle gang to Henry, the action and interest doesn’t stop just because Jack Sawyer is not front and center.
  • I liked that the ending wasn’t a “happily ever after” affair where Jack lived out the rest of his days in the quiet community of French Landing. Instead, he got shot and had to be hustled back to the territories to be tended by Sophie (the new queen, I guess). The writers made it clear that Jack could survive in the Territories, but if he ever tried to go back to the “real world”, his injury would end up killing him. It might not manifest as a gunshot or blood loss, but something would happen to him and he would die.

Disliked:

  • What was up with all the “we” stuff in the descriptions? “We float along like the wind until we come to a black house…” or whatever. That was pretty irritating and made me feel I was reading a screenplay instead of a book. WTF was the point of that?
  • Did the serial killer have to EAT the children after killing them? Wasn’t murder enough? Admittedly, the book wasn’t that graphic, but still… Adding that detail felt like the writers were just going overboard for the hell of it.
  • Apparently, this book ties into the Dark Tower/Gunslinger books as well. I wasn’t a fan of those books (I think I only read one), despite the fact that many people believe the series represents King’s best work, so I didn’t care for the references in this one.
  • It took a fairly long time for the action to really get off the ground. The beginning of the book was so boring that I almost gave up on it.

Rating

Overall, Black House was a good way to get back into Stephen King after not reading him for a long time. There were many classic elements in the book, along with a few grating ones — and that’s reflected in my rating. I give this one 3 stars out of 5.

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