BLACK HOUSE - 2002
by Stephen King and Peter Straub
I read THE TALISMAN back when it first came out, and Abebooks.com tells me that means
1984. Hmmmm. I don’t remember 1984. Come to think of it I don't remember
much of either year bordering it, either.
This reference to my 80's indulgences is only relevant because it tells you that there's
no need to read or reread THE TALISMAN in order to enjoy BLACK HOUSE.
Yes, it's touted as a sequel. Yes, Jack Sawyer returns as our hero and
generally cool dude. But past that - nada. There’s nothing you have to
know about the past to make this novel work.
BLACK HOUSE picks up twenty years after Jack left the Territories and his parallel
universe traveling behind. The two decades faded his childhood memories
and developed Jack into a successful and somewhat celebrated Los Angeles
homicide detective. Then, while still young and quite a bit short of his
career peak, Jack decides to turn in his badge and retire to the hamlet
of Tamarack, Wisconsin.
It’s easy to see why he chose Tamarack. For the most part it’s a peaceful place.
Kids can still trick-or-treat without parental escort and the neighbors
talk to each other.
Up until now.
There’s someone new in town. Someone who kidnaps children, consumes choice portions, and
dumps the remains. Wendell Green, reporter extraordinaire, recognizes
commonalities between the current spate of murders and the hideous crimes
of one Albert Fish - arguably America’s most notorious serial killer -
so he labels the new murderer The Fisherman.
As you can imagine, Tamarack is up in arms. The local police are in over their heads,
so there’s unwanted help from the state authorities. The beer-brewing,
Harley-riding, literature debating “Thunder Five” motorcycle gang occasionally
tosses in a bit of interference. The parents are getting downright snippy.
So, of course, it’s up to Jack Sawyer, ace homicide detective, to set things right.
Taken at face value, this isn’t much more than a murder thriller in the same vein
as Straub’s Blue Rose trilogy. But that’s just face value. You can’t take
two masters like King and Straub and expect anything to be what you expect
it to be. That’s not what you pay $29.00 for, right? Besides, it wouldn’t
be billed as a sequel to THE TALISMAN if we were just gonna play cops
It’s a given (therefore, I believe, not a spoiler) that
the Territories still exist. And they have something to do with all this.
King’s DARK TOWER fans will find interesting and relevant information
woven into the text of BLACK HOUSE as well. But neither of those “other” lands impact this story the same
way they do in previous works. At times it’s almost as if their threads
were woven in more as distractions than anything else. Change a few names,
shift a few places, and this could have been the same novel without a
single bit of back history. Maybe I should blame King and Straub’s need
to revisit old ground. Maybe I should blame marketing. Probably, since
it didn’t hurt the story, I won’t blame anyone at all.
The plot is strong, the characters well developed, and the build-up adequate. I
say adequate because both King and Straub have (long ago) taken to using
twelve words where eight would do just fine. But I never found myself
bored and at times I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough, so there’s no
need for them to apologize. Not once when I was reading this did I go
to sleep before 3 a.m.
A good going and well worth four BookWyrms.
This review copyright 2001 E.C.McMullen Jr.
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