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Onyx reviews: lost boy lost girl  by Peter Straub

lost boy lost girl is Peter Straub's first solo novel since Mr. X. It comes on the heels of Black House, co-written with Stephen King in 2001 and a superficial description of some of it's elements—missing children, a sinister house and a Wisconsin town being terrorized by a serial killer—might lead readers to think that it is somehow related to that collaboration.

The element of slippage introduced in Black House is present here, a connection between the known world and something inexplicable that lies beyond. Straub's fictional Millhaven, a thinly disguised Milwaukee, is familiar territory, having been featured in three previous novels collectively known as the Blue Rose books. Though they do have some characters and events in common, these books aren't a series, per se. There is a distorted fiction versus reality relationship among them, with author Tim Underhill at the center. Some seem to relate events from his life; others seem to have been written by him.

Tim's younger brother Philip never escaped Millhaven's grip or his older brother's shadow. He's so self-absorbed and concerned about his social status that he's unaware that his family is disintegrating. His wife is a lost girl with family skeletons no one ever discusses. Echoes of her past put her under intense emotional strain, leading to her suicide. Only their son Mark—who found the body—was aware that his mother was breaking down, but he didn't know what to do about it.

Tim returns to Millhaven for his sister-in-law's funeral and again shortly after Mark disappears. He had started a tentative e-mail relationship with his nephew in the weeks after the funeral. Tim believes that Mark has a good, tender heart despite seeming troubled, restless and unfocused.

The police think Mark may be the next victim of the Sherman Park Killer. Tim seeks the assistance of his eccentric and reclusive detective friend Tom Pasmore (featured in Mystery). They learn that Mark had recently become obsessed with a mysterious house that has a sinister history. The abandoned house isn't shrouded by darkness in a remote location—it's in the middle of a residential street, ignored by neighbors as if it no longer existed. The man who keeps the lawn mowed does so with his eyes averted from the building.

Tim and Pasmore also learn that there may be another lost girl whose past is inextricably linked to Mark's disappearance. A girl so lost that few people even knew she existed.

lost boy lost girl is a brief 280 pages, but it's packed with surreal imagery. The story interweaves the present—Tim's investigation—with the recent past, from the time Mark notices the eerily seductive house, his mother's subsequent death and the events leading up to his disappearance. It blends third person narrative perspective with Tim's journal entries, offering different levels of abstraction.

Horrible things happened in the now-abandoned house, evil committed by very real men. But the house—which is a house within a house—may also be a portal to a world next door where lost boys and lost girls can find happiness; perhaps to one of those thin places where the world's invisible engine can sometimes be heard.

Straub shines new light on the basic components that he and King used for Black House. The book offers no pat answers, though, and the mystery extends beyond Tom Pasmore's impressive investigative skills. As Tim Underhill writes in one of his novels, what's at stake here is the solidity of the world itself.

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