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`House' suspenseful, engrosing throughout

King, Straub collaborate on sequel to `Talisman' that is an intense horror story

Once again, master of horror Stephen King takes us to disturbing, yet touching, heights of the human imagination.

Joined by novelist Peter Straub in a fantastic collaborative effort, "Black House" is a dark fantasy novel for all horror and fantasy fans. The sequel to King's and Straub's "The Talisman," "Black House" embodies everything a good story should: good guys, bad guys, mystery, love and, of course, horror.

The main character and hero, Jack Sawyer, makes a return from "The Talisman" into a new plot of suspense.

This time a 30-something retired Los Angeles Police Department lieutenant, Sawyer, settles down in French Landing, Wisc., with no recollection of his prior adventures in another dimension. Sawyer wants nothing to do with police work ever again but is slowly sucked into a case against his will.

A murderer who kills and eats children dubbed the Fisherman has run rampant with three victims to his credit, and then snatches Ty Marshall, a very special child with a very special mother. Sawyer begins to work on the case unofficially and eventually uncovers a world that he had forgotten and never wanted to remember.

This is one world, which he refers to as the Territories, among many that seem to be on the verge of collapse unless Sawyer can save Ty and bring him back from the clutches of the Fisherman - otherwise known as creepy elderly Charles Burnside - and the demon that is possessing him, Mr. Munshun.

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King and Straub offer up a variety of fantastic characters, including Ty's mother, Judy Sawyer, the radio multi-personality and spiffy dresser Henry Leydon, the concerned sheriff Dale Gilbertson and the Thunder Five, a group of five wannabe Hell's Angels that have college educations and brew beer.

French Landing seems like an innocuous town in rural Wisconsin, but it's ups and downs sometimes verge on the hilarious and sometimes veer toward the very freaky.

Then, of course, the ever-lovable scumbag reporter Wendell Green pops up out of nowhere to make nothing but trouble for Sawyer and the good police force of French Landing.

The black house is something of an interesting phenomenon. It is a gate to other worlds and the headquarters for the Fisherman, who stashes his kids there before brutally mutilating them and eating their body parts. How King and Straub make this animated house the center of the novel is very subtle, since it isn't prominent until toward the end of the novel, but its menacing presence is rampant throughout.

King and Straub also use an interesting third person narrative to tell the story, which literally lets the readers see what's going on from both their viewpoints. They are mostly humorous and watchful. It's a point of view that is used a lot, but it still works within the context of the novel. They lighten when the mood needs to be lightened, but take a step back when the plot and characters need to take over. Overall, it's a point of view that is used properly and adds to the story, rather than detracts.

Although the story is definitely dark fantasy at its best, what makes it so believable and suspenseful is the added element of reality that King and Straub integrate superbly. Perhaps the other worlds are less believable, but many occurrences in the novel ring true, however disturbing or sad. This gives the story its uniqueness and leveled interest.

Anyone who is a fan of King or Straub or in the mood for a little fantastical intrigue should pick up a copy of "Black House" and be ready to go for a engrossing ride that doesn't end until the last page is read.

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