Saturday, October 4, 2008

Black House by Stephen King and Peter Straub (unabridged audio book read by Frank Muller)

Authors Stephen King and Peter Straub's second collaboration is much more than just a sequel to their first, The Talisman. In fact, Black House, draws from the earlier book's mythology only in a few scenes. An older Jack Sawyer returns as the protagonist, but now he's a talented police detective called out of voluntary retirement to help solve a rash of child murders in his newly adopted home of French Landing, Wisconsin.

This makes the vast majority of Black House reminiscent of Straub's murder mysteries (like The Throat) — which is a welcome change from the King-dominated tone of The Talisman. But King fans need not think of eschewing Black House outright because the authors have a trick up their collective sleeve: they've managed to also tie this story into the Dark Tower mythos — solidly but without overdoing it.

Everything is crafted so well and flows so smoothly that "even a blind man can see" (as the eminently quotable George Rathbun would say) that Black House is the best thing either of them had written up to that point — and is a shining example of what can be achieved when a pair's talents combine to enhance each other. Straub's literary bent gives style and intelligence to King's average-guy prose, and King's skill at pacing keeps Straub's tendency toward lengthy description from slowing things down. As a result, it offers the best of both authors with very few of their flaws remaining. The quality even transcends the distracting narrative style (using first-person plural, in the manner of screenplay directions, to reflect the book's dual storyteller).

Black House also manages to turn the impossible into the believable and can be enjoyed fully by the uninitiated, though fans who have already read The Talisman and the Dark Tower series will undoubtedly be the most rewarded and have the most fun. But I'm not sure the book as written is even as good as the audiobook as read by the late Frank Muller. His legendary vocal skills enhance the storyline with unforgettable characterizations of the colorful cast. The abovementioned George Rathbun and the villainous Mr. Munshun are particularly remarkable, making this original, exciting, suspenseful and intelligent story into something even better than the words on the page. "Case closed, game over, zip up your fly."

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