Black House by Stephen King

King, Stephen - Black House

3.99  ·  Rating details ·  45,332 Ratings  ·  1,282 Reviews
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Black House by Stephen King
Twenty years ago, a boy named Jack Sawyer travelled to a parallel universe called The Territories to save his mother and her Territories "twinner" from a premature and 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, WI. He has no recollection of his adventures in the Territories and 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 by a real-life madman named Albert Fish, the killer is dubbed "The Fisherman" and Jack's buddy, the local chief of police, begs Jack to help his inexperienced force find him. But is this 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 that message becomes increasingly impossible to ignore, Jack is drawn back to the Territories and to his own hidden past, where he may find the soul-strength to enter a terrifying house at the end of a deserted track of forest, there to encounter the obscene and ferocious evils sheltered within it.


I hate that the first thing you see of a review is the number of stars it's given.

Someone's feeling about a book is not easily reduced to a five-point scale. And even once that is done, how do I know what five stars means to you? How do you know what five stars means to me?

For me, a five star book is a book that I believe is worth the time and energy you're going to spend reading it.

If, (and this is key) you're into that sort of book. (Horror, Mystery, Fantasy, Hardcore Gothic Gypsy Steampunk.)

A six-star book, is a book that I believe is worth your time and energy even if it's *not* the sort of thing you're into. (Generally speaking, this is the sort of book I'll give a promotional blurb for.)

Unfortunately, there isn't a six star option here on goodreads.

Generally speaking, a four star book is one that irritates me or disappoints me in one or two moderate ways.

A three star book has several moderate irritations, or one big one, or or something that was irritating all the way through.

Keep in mind that I can be extraordinarily critical of my books. Things that irritate me might not ever even show up on your mental radar.

Further complicating things is the fact that sometimes I'm willing to give a book a bonus star due to extenuating circumstances. If the writer is doing something new and exciting, for example. If they're trying something really difficult or if it's their first book, I'll often give an extra star.

So. To the point. Did I enjoy this book? Yes. I didn't know there was a sequel to the Talisman until I saw this in an airport a week ago. I enjoyed reading it. Held my attention. Pleased me with its craft.

Is it for everyone? No. So here's the breakdown.

** What I personally liked about this book:

It was told in present tense, and done well. Not a lot of folks can pull that off.

The narrator was almost an active character, almost like a tour guide through the story. He/she speaks directly to the reader at points, saying things like, "Let's see what's going on over at the old mill..."

Again, it worked well. Extra points for that.

Also, it was set in Wisconsin. Which is kinda fun for me.

**What you might like about this book:

Everything that you normally like about Steven King's stuff. Interesting characters. Alternate worlds. Nice tie-in with the Talisman and the Dark Tower stuff.

Nice description. Nice special effects. Nice tension and suspense. Nice characterization.

**What you might dislike about this book:

It's a large, rambly story. A lot of the book is spent in atmospherics, developing non-essential characters, and digressions, rather than action and moving the story forward.

The Talisman was a cool adventure story. A young boy goes out, explores a strange world on a quest to save his mom.

This book isn't that. There's no real adventure. They don't even get into the other world until the last 80 pages or so.

Children in danger. (I'm sensitive to this, having a kid now myself. It can be a dealbreaker for some folks.)

Extreme potentially even gratuitous violence and gore. (But again, we're in the horror genre, so....)

So there you go. Isn't that better than some arbitrary number of stars? Now you can make your own choice about whether you want to read it. Or not. It's up to you. 
Each time I pick up a Stephen King book, I am struck by the different writing voice I find. Truth is, I had expected it with Black House, sort of, being co-written with Peter Straub, and yet I was struck all the same. 
King/Straub narrate much of this tale from a moving bird’s-eye perspective, floating in and out of each character’s stance and location, with a twinge of humor on the side. They don’t even try to hide the fact that this account has been written in a book, by two writers even. I thought this was funny, and I thought the style of writing was unlike many of the other King works before it. Believe me, I tried to deduce who wrote what. Was this King’s chapter, or was it Straub’s? “King-ism’s” came through of course. They always do. But overall, I could not tell. Then I found the reason why - while watching an interview of Stephen and his son Owen no less. Even they could not tell who had written what when looking back at their new book Sleeping Beauties. During their collaboration, they had edited and rewritten one other’s work along the way, thereby melding it. There was the answer.

How did Black House fare compared to The Talisman? Pretty well, I’d say. Here’s the part where I admit that I cannot remember much of The Talisman. I am bummed about that, but just a little. Although I think it’s more than a good idea to read The Talisman first, it’s not going to kill the story if you happened not to. Black House looks back at the twelve year old Jack Sawyer and his quest across America, while creating a whole new chapter in the process. Jack is now an adult with no memory of the long ago journey to save his mom’s life. (Don’t worry Jack, I forgot too!) But his memory will return, and with it will come the recollection of that other world called The Territories. And as I read about his recollection, these words came through:

    ”There are other worlds than these.”

That is not a line taken from Black House, although it could easily be one. The quote belongs to Jake Chambers from The Gunslinger. I bring this up because the story of Black House fits so well with The Dark Tower series. I don’t think there’s another book outside of the series that is closer to it than this one. The Talisman may be in some ways, but it seems to me that half the purpose of Black House is to tell a story of The Dark Tower that needed telling. Fine by me. Some of the things in those other worlds are a little bit “out there”, so to speak. Weird creatures. Wild ideas. And that’s fine too, cause the stories are always strong. Like this one.
It's been a long time since I read this book. I remember reading it when it first came out, when I was in my late teens, and really enjoying it, but it's clear that I forgot sooo much about this book. I remember this one having more to do with the Dark Tower - but just how much, and in what detail surprised me. I almost wish that I hadn't read it now, that I'd waited until later on in my upcoming Dark Tower re-read with my bookclub, so I could read it at a more appropriate place within the Dark Tower timeline.

But oh well. Sometimes one must live with the choices that are made.

It's not really fair to call this book a sequel to The Talisman. I don't know what else to call it, because it IS that... but it sets the expectation that it will be similar to The Talisman, and it's not at all that. Talisman was an adventure, a quest, and yes, there was some dark and grim stuff in there (The Elroy Thing, Sunlight Gardener, Morgan & Morgan, etc) and but it never felt hopelessly grim and depraved. This does. Not that I'm complaining, I loved it. But this is the evil twin that has been kept in the attic and fed fish heads making its appearance after 20 years. It came from the same stock, but it's not friendly or altogether sane.

This is a dark book. It's a slow burn of a book. It's a character study book. It's a police-procedural-in-hell book. It's a Dark Tower book. It's a Stephen King book... so I don't know why anyone would expect anything less than the previous statements.

We pick back up with Jack Sawyer 20 years after we left him, and he has made a career and a life for himself as a homicide detective. He's forgotten - or blocked - all memories of his previous quest to save his mother, and has tried to live as normal and mundane a life as possible, despite the fact that he had touched the Talisman, and it conferred a lasting good luck on him that made everything he wanted to do that much easier. However, Jack has pulled the plug on his career after seeing a black man murdered on the Santa Monica Pier and it dredges up some memories of Speedy Parker - and he gets the hell out of dodge. Moves to an idyllic little town in Wisconsin and never plans to be a cop again. Except of course for the fact that Ka is a wheel and he doesn't have a choice. Someone is killing children in his new hometown, and of course nothing is ever what it seems when King's writing.

What follows is a grim, but excellent story that builds and builds. We encounter some old friends, make a lot of new ones (and more than a few enemies as well) and shit gets real. And surreal.

I don't really want to talk too much about the plot or the story because it's best if one experiences it for themselves. It is a great book, and can stand alone - though you will get much more out of this if you are familiar with Jack's history.

I loved most of the characters in this book, even the ones I detested. Wendell Green and Charles Burnside, I'm looking at you. In that order. Charles is what he is, and he does what he does and there's no punishment harsh enough for that. But for some reason, my disgust and rage really homed in on Green, and I felt like he was the most shitty person in this whole book. All of the other evils were evil, pure and simple. They wanted to kill and destroy and tear down the walls of the universe because that's what evil does. But fucking Wendell Green is just a shitty human who thinks way too highly of himself and is out for blood because he thinks that he's King Shit of Turd Hill - only nobody else recognizes that yet. He's the Rita Skeeter of French Landing. The shitty fucker. Shoulda been left for the Sisters. Just sayin'.

ANYWHO... I loved Henry and Beezer and Mouse and Jack and Dale. All of these guys make me so proud of them. Even Bear Girl, in her small, small bit part, impressed me and kind of broke my heart. She's a rock, that girl. I would have liked a bit more about Mr. Munshun and The Big Combination. I wanted a bit more about what that was FOR. Obviously it was EVIL... but just what was it powering?

Still... this is a great book, if a little tiny bit draggy at times. Like I said, it's a slow burner of a book. It takes a bit of patience, as often King's books do, but I think they pay off in the end. If I had ONE complaint, it would be the romantic element of the story. Ugh. Come on. It was unnecessary and so obvious and blah blah blah skim. Yeah, I get it, she's pretty... he's pretty... they are "interesting" and now instalove. Gag me. Leave out the instalove, and I'm golden. I could not care less.

Otherwise, excellent stuff.
In the early eighties, Stephen King and Peter Straub embarked on the ultimate coming-of-age tale. The Talisman easily solidified the collaboration's super status. Then, nearly two decades later, they returned to their literary roots. Black House portrays a different Jack Sawyer, now a semi-retired Los Angeles detective. He won't remain there much longer, though. By requesting his expertise in a major case, a colleague-turned-friend leads him to Wisconsin, where his life will be irrevocably numerous ways.

Black House is very different from its predecessor. One of the most significant changes is the unique writing style. Almost everything's shown by way of what I like to call "an eagle's eye" view. This can be somewhat difficult and frustrating to adjust to, and I completely understand that critique. It's also a little slow at first. We're not actually reunited with Jack until the first 60 or so pages.
My first time through the Coulee Country, I struggled with it a bit, too. But it being a King novel, I knew a big payoff was inevitable.

And maintaining his "I'm retired" mindset, Jack is reluctant to aid the local police investigation of a string of grisly serial killings. It's only until a young boy is abducted that Jack agrees to assist the authorities.

With the addition of a handful of eccentric characters (including the ever positive, delightful, and beloved Henry Lyden,) we're given recurring appearances of one or more characters from The Talisman.

One new addition, named Charles Burnside, alludes to a less than pleasant childhood, leaving something to be desired. I wanted to know more. For instance, how exactly was he mistreated (presuming, of course, that was the case,) what were his parents like? Who were his parents? What events helped form the individual shown throughout the novel?
More importantly, can he be empathized with, knowing what we do about him? Should we be expected to? I felt next to nothing for him, whatsoever. Unless my utter abhorrence of him is put into consideration. That particular emotion resonates in every fiber of my being. But if I may return briefly to the aforementioned alluding, my heart does go out to him. Though all too fleeting...

How about his time in Chicago? He displays an abundance of scorn which tells the reader of his pent-up resentment. What specifically happened there, though?
That being said, I love the duality of ol' "burn, burn's" voices and/or accents. (In general, it's always a pleasure to find elements of duality in fiction, but in this case, I think King and Straub pulled it off exceptionally well.) Reminiscent of some nefarious-yet equally skilled- ventriloquist, the sequence baffles the mind in every sense of the word.

Additionally, I think I probably would have been more impacted if our killer had been less supernatural and more human.
Why do I emphasize this point? Because, as of late, I've come to realize that villains who are more less fantastical (Rose Madder's Norman Daniels or The Shining's Jack Torrance, to name a few) have a much larger affect on me.

I almost wish that the killer's identity had been withheld a bit longer. I believe if they'd done so, it would have created a much more suspenseful, biting-your-nails quality. Then again, the story's pretty dark and creepy. King and Straub probably weren't very interested in its mystery; contrarily, this story is very horror-orientated.

All throughout, a recurring theme is explored in interesting way(s:) repressed memories. This literary technique is seen in multiple characters, primarily our protagonist, Jack Sawyer.
On a related note, scientific studies indicate that particularly traumatic experiences often result in repression, as a defense mechanism. And speaking personally, I'm a firm believer. I can recall very little of my childhood.
I'm not the only one, either. King and Straub said it best: "Amnesia is merciful." Indeed.

The final showdown (and the all-important journey toward that end,) felt slightly long-winded, but the psychological aspects almost demand it. As for the battle itself, I am torn. On the one hand, it is quite phenomenal. On the other, there's a comic book quality which renders it somewhat unrealistic. As a result, I'm left with many questions whose answers I'd be interested in learning.

Then, due to unforeseen events, Jack is inadvertently transported back to his past, so to speak. By taking their story in this direction, King and Straub present a few very suspenseful closing pages. I was literally holding my anxious breath and hoping for the best. I also realized the depth of my love and admiration for this amazing man. And through certain revelations, things are left open. There simply MUST be a 3rd book!!

Jack's story isn't complete.
I absolutely loved this book. It's funny, because I picked it up immediately after reading The Talisman, and at first I was put off by the shift in tone and feel of this one. I wanted more Talisman style fantasy adventure, with the lovable young Jack Sawyer. What I got was a cold, detached, present-tense narrative that watched everything from above and showed a landscape that was totally out of place with the book I had just finished. This is supposed to be a sequel!

But am I ever glad I stuck with it. The present voice grew to become a comfort, and as the narrator became more attached to the characters, so did I. This is still not the same book, but oh my, what a book it is.

I said that The Talisman reminded me somewhat of a blend of Lord of the Rings and Tom Sawyer. Well, for this one, throw in some Silence of the Lambs and even a touch of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. The villains were delightful in how wicked-evil they could be. The heroes were flawed, yes, but so human and I couldn't help but pull for them all the way. There were even a few times near the end where I wanted to pitch the book out the window. But I couldn't, as I had to keep reading until there was no more.

I've heard that King and Straub are planning a third collaboration. After reading Black House I must say I hope they do. And I won't wait 9 years to read the next one, I can say that much.

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