The fruit of Stephen King & Peter Straub's first collaboration was 'The Talisman', released in the eighties. A landmark of fantasy fiction, the novel chronicled the journey of Jack Sawyer through another world in an effort to retreive a magical artifact, the Talisman, to save his dying mother. Now, over 17 years later, Straub and King return to the world of 'The Talisman', in their masterpiece of dark fantasy and horror, 'Black House'.
Jack Sawyer is all grown up now. He remembers almost nothing about his terrifying journey through another world known only as the 'Territories'. He was a very succesful police officer in LA, until a case took him to Tamarak, Wisconsin. He shortly quit the force after, and moved out to Wisconsin to enjoy an idyllic life.
Unfortunately, Tamarak's not nearly as quiet as it used to be. Children are being found ripped apart, by a mysterious killer the media has dubbed the Fisherman - after the infamous Brooklyn Vampire, Albert Fish. Soon, Jack's friend Chief Dale Gilbertson is knocking at his door, begging for his help. The last child to disappear was Tyler Marshall. His mother seems have to been going crazy for months, and snaps the day he's taken. She starts mumbling words like 'Abalalah' and scrawls references to a 'Crimson King'.
Soon Jack begins to remember his childhood, and what happened to him in the Territories. Perhaps it's time to journey back, if even for moment. It's time to learn about the beams on which all worlds rest, the Dark Tower, and the terrible beast within bent on tearing it down. Jack soon realizes that the fate of this world, and all worlds, hinges on little Tyler Marshall. And the key to everything? A Black House.
The story itself is nothing short of engrossing. King and Straub weave a truly horrific tale full of expertly crafted suspense, masterful storytelling, and heart pounding action. The breadth is nothing short of epic, to say the least. It ties in very nicely to King's goliath 'Dark Tower' series, full of major revelations and crossovers which fans of 'Dark Tower' are sure to love. The authors weave a fantastic tale of fantasy and horror, laced with an overarching theme that's graced a number of King's books.
The excellent plot is delivered by beautiful presentation, with few exceptions. One of these is a narrative technique used by the authors which may appeal to some, but seems to deliver a somewhat disjointed read. Often, before characters are introduced the narrative voice takes on a first person roaming camera perspective - flying over houses, providing backstory, making comments about the characters - which while informative, does serve to disrupt the flow of storytelling. It's a minor concern, but seems a shame to interrupt such a well measured book.
Aside from this, the writing is flawless. The descriptions of the Black House itself as well as a blasted landscape towards the end of the book are both awe-inspiring and sickening. The antagonist (well, minor antagonist in the grand scheme of things) is completely debased and more than a little deranged. The things he does to children make for truly terrifying reading, and may offend some readers with, uhm, gentle constitutions.
The characters vary in their complexity. In a novel of this scope, there's a virtual host of supporting characters required simply to advance the plot. King and Straub have built these with more care than most authors, and they come across as realistic and well written. With Jack Sawyer and a few others, such as Henry Leyden, the authors have taken care to construct them much more thoroughly. Perhaps Henry Leyden is the most enjoyable character in the book. As a blind man with a precise ear for sound, sections concerning him are easily among the most entertaining ones. One scene in particular, evokes a sense of suspense not recently matched in King's previous books.
'Black House' has all the ingredients of a masterful work of both horror and fantasy. King and Straub are back in a big way, and 'Black House' is full of suspense, fear, style, and above all - good old storytelling. Any way you slice it (and the Fisherman slices it many, many ways...) this novel is a essential read for fans of either horror or modern fantasy.