Onyx reviews: Black
House by Stephen King and Peter Straub
When he was twelve, Jack Sawyer crossed America on a quest to retrieve a
talisman to save his mother's life. Part of the way, Jack traveled in another
world, the Territories, where time and distance are different. Unlike most
people in this world who have a counterpart in the Territories—a "twinner"
- Jack is single-natured, able to flip back and forth between universes at will.
Now in his mid-thirties, Jack has forgotten that great adventure. His life since
then has not been idle—until recently he was a very successful homicide
detective with the LAPD. A mysterious incident caused him to retire to quiet
French Landing, Wisconsin, a place he once visited while on the trail of a
murderer. Something about this quiet village calls to him.
French Landing is no longer serene. A killer is slaughtering children and
devoured parts of their bodies. Victims' families have received graphic letters
describing "The Fisherman's" violations in exquisite detail. Chief of
Police Dale Gilbertson knows he is out of his depth. Having worked with Jack on
the earlier murder case, Dale tries repeatedly to enlist his friend's help. Jack
is adamant—he has retired from police work.
Forces beyond this realm are at work in French Landing. We are shown much that
the main characters do not get to see. Throughout the novel, we are taken on a
guided tour by the narrator, who whisks us through open windows and keyholes,
under closed doors and high aloft on windy breezes to discretely observe the
citizens going about their lives.
We see The Fisherman snatch young Tyler Marshall and soon discover that the
villain has access to the Territories, using this to facilitate his escapes.
Tyler is special—he is wanted on the other side by the Crimson King, a figure
known to readers of King's Insomnia and Hearts in Atlantis. The world of
The Talisman and Black
House merges into the Dark Tower mythos that is the core of King's
Black House is a much darker older brother to The Talisman, which was essentially an epic fantasy. The original
collaboration was about a young boy with a child's cares and concerns. This
sequel is an adult tale, one that does not flinch from the evils of this world
Vivid, evocative characters populate the novel. Slimy Wendell Green, the local
news hawk (news vulture, some call him) hopes to land the story of his career
with The Fisherman. He keeps French Landing stirred up with tabloid-like
headlines sensationalizing each grizzly discovery. The Thunder Five, a
college-educated motorcycle gang who brew fine craft beer constantly demolish
any preconceptions we might have about these men.
Dale's uncle, the mysterious Henry Leyden, a blind man who is the voice of
several vastly disparate radio personalities, is Jack's muse. At night, Jack
reads Dickens' Bleak House to Henry—the similarity of that title
to the name of the foreboding edifice that will become central to this story is
not a coincidence. The authors use numerous literary devices and references from
Roused from somnolence by the plight of Ty's mother, Judy, who was descending
into madness even before The Fisherman took her son, Jack becomes fully engaged
as the memories of his youthful adventure flood back. He becomes reacquainted
with Speedy/Parkus, the twinners who guided him through his previous quest, and
meets Judy's twinner, the lovely Sophie, Queen of the World.
Jack's rag-tag gang must solve the puzzle that is Black House, an eerie building
that defies logic, as they risk their lives and sanity to rescue Ty Marshall
from The Fisherman and the Crimson King. Along the way, we will learn much more
about "breakers" and the nature of the Dark Tower, enough to hold us
over until the next book in King's series appears. Peter Straub has hinted that
a third collaboration is quite likely, and the third novel would form a sort of
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