The sequel to Stephen King
and Peter Straub's 1984 novel The Talisman
, Black House
reunites us with Travelin' Jack Sawyer, who once undertook a long and dangerous quest across America and across the plane of worlds in order to save his mother's life. Jack is now in his thirties, a former homicide detective who retired early from a career with the LAPD. He has forgotten about his adventures as a twelve-year old, even as the effects continue to shape his life, and he is so determined not to remember that even the suggestion of events related to those times is enough to induce panic attacks.
He now lives in the bucolic western Wisconsin town of French Landing, enjoying his retirement in a place of great natural beauty and a wonderful friend in the blind radio personality Henry Layden. Unfortunately, French Landing is being plagued by a savage serial murder dubbed The Fisherman, one who targets children and has a taste for their flesh in imitation of Albert Fish, a killer who operated in the 1920s. Two children have been discovered and a third is missing, presumed dead. The local police are desperate to acquire Jack's services, as his career as a homicide detective was short but legendary, and Jack was once considered something of a prodigy. At first, Jack steadfastly refuses, because every step he takes towards his old career may be another step closer to a complete mental breakdown. However, when Tyler Marshall becomes the Fisherman's fourth victim, it is no longer a matter of saving children from the pleasures of a cannibal murderer, because Tyler is a Breaker, potentially the most powerful ever, and if he is made to apply his talents towards bringing down The Dark Tower
, all worlds and universes may soon be erased from existence.
This novel provides examples of:
- The Alcoholic: Wanda Kinderling stopped paying for cable so she could afford more vodka.
- The Alleged Car: Wendell Green's red Toyota, described as a "traveling sneer".
- All Grown Up!: Jack Sawyer. He had just turned thirteen when last we saw him.
- Alternate Dimension: There are worlds beyond counting. A few are visited, and more appear as references.
- Alternate Self: The concept of Twinners was a major element of The Talisman. Parkus warns Jack from assuming the same is true now. Judy Marshall and her Twinner Sophie are the only major examples seen.
- Ascended Extra: Beezer. He is mentioned only off-hand for the first third of the book, just a name in a crowd of names referenced in the scene-setting montage which opens the book, but is a major player in the story by its end.
- Asshole Victim: Chipper. Non-fatally, Wendell Green.
- Ax-Crazy: Burny violently murders several people near the end, mostly just out of simple spite.
- Badass: Jack Sawyer, naturally. The Thunder Five mostly counts, as well.
- Big Bad: The Crimson King, though he does not directly intervene at any point.
- Bittersweet Ending: The book has one, and warns you that it's coming. Jack is gunned down by Wanda Kinderling in his moment of triumph, and can only stay alive thereafter by spending most of his time in the Territories.
- Break the Cutie: Judy Marshall, though it has been happening for months as a result of her Twinner trying desperately to communicate with her across the worlds. We only witness the climax of her breakdown.
- Breaking the Fourth Wall: The reader is implied to be traveling throughout the town and witnessing events as an insubstantial presence flying upon the wind.
- Butt Biter: Charles Burnside is a rare, horrifying and non-comical variety.
- Canon Welding: This book established ties to The Dark Tower series that did not exist in The Talisman.
- Chekhov's Gunman: Wanda Kinderling who only appears briefly from time to time and has little relevance to the overall plot until she shoots Jack Sawyer.
- Child Eater: The Fisherman. He especially enjoys the butt.
- Corrupt Corporate Executive: Chipper Maxton engages in fraud more for the thrill of the act than for the financial gains it offers. He is just as content to con small change from families of people in his nursing home as he is conning thousands in government aid money.
- Darker and Edgier: Yes, this takes place in the Dark Tower continuity, yes, it's a collaboration between Stephen King and Peter Straub, and YES, it's a sequel to The Talisman. It still manages to be more Grim Dark than the earlier book. Among other traits, the Territories have a very minor role in the plot, serving as both a Red Herring to Jack before the larger cosmology and the Fisherman's significance is explained to him, and a bit of a breather point for him.
- Departure Means Death: Near the end, Jack is mortally wounded by a vengeance-seeking Wanda Kinderling and taken into the Territories by Parkus so that he may survive. He does, and he will be able to return to our world, but if he stays too long, the damage made by the wounds will manifest again and kill him.
- Disability as an Excuse for Jerkassery: Henry, walking CMOA that he is, magnificently averts this. He is, by far, the most courteous and thoughtful character in the book.
- Disability Superpower: Henry's hearing and sense of smell hover on the edge of this. He's not Daredevil, but he's close.
- The Dragon: Mr. Munshun, to the Crimson King.
- Charles Burnside, to Mr. Munshun. This role is apparently something of a revolving door.
- Due to the Dead: We are asked by the narration to honor Irma Freneau when we are taken to Ed's Eats and Dogs to view her corpse.
- Dying Moment of Awesome: In spite of being blind, Henry manages to inflict serious wounds on the Fisherman, weakening him enough that Tyler is able to finish him off. Henry also manages to leave a last message identifying the Fisherman.
- Heterosexual Life-Partners: Jack and Henry are just about inseparable, one visiting the other almost every day.
- Humanoid Abomination: Mr. Munshun.
- I'm a Humanitarian: The Fisherman.
- Jerkass: Wendell Green is just about completely unlikable, which is obvious to Jack, the police and the reader, and yet everybody else seems oblivious.
- Jack the Ripoff: The Fisherman is this to Albert Fish, right down to the the phrasing in letters sent to the parents. It's later revealed that they are both 'employed' by Mr. Munshun.
- Kid Hero: Tyler destroys the Big Combination with his telekinetic powers, saves thousands of child slaves from certain doom, and throws a large wrench in the Crimson King's mega-apocalyptic plans.
- Lemony Narrator: The book has a unique and downright hilarious narration that frequently makes it feel that someone is telling the reader the story. Being Stephen King and Peter Straub, the narrator is incredibly sarcastic, but it's a good deal drier and rather gentle compared to what you might expect.
- Madness Mantra: The word 'opopanax' seems to seize Jack's mind when he's under a great deal of stress.
- Magical Land: The Territories.
- Magical Negro: Speedy Parker, just as he was before. Mildly subverted when his true self, Parkus, implies that it was an act to appeal to the younger Jack at a time when he needed guidance.
- Mind Rape: Gorg the crow visits grieving mother Tansy Freneau, tells her grisly details about her murdered daughter, and breaks her mind beyond complete repair.
- Mysterious Past: Jack has blocked his adventures in the previous book out of his mind for a very long time. Also, Charles Burnside showed up at Maxton's with no records, no history and no apparent past except for a vague story that makes little sense and changes with every telling. Chipper Maxton doesn't care that the checks for Burnside's care come from a person who apparently doesn't exist, because they are generous and they never bounce.
- My Greatest Failure: When Jack begins remembering the events of The Talisman after returning to the Territories, one of his immediate memories is Wolf's slow dying after flipping to Earth because of Jack and his Heroic Sacrifice; his dialogue implies that Jack never really got over his guilt in Wolf's death.
- Paparazzi: Wendell Green. Green is, ostensibly, a reporter for the La Riviere Herald, a regular and respectable newspaper, but the reason he is trying so hard to get photos of Irma Freneau's corpse, instigate a riot at the jail, and just make shit up where no shit is to be found, is so he can sell it all to major tabloids like The National Enquirer and make huge money.
- Psychic Powers: The Breakers are all psychics of one sort or another. Tyler Marshall's latent telekinesis is why he is targeted by the Fisherman.
- Rabble Rouser: An angry mob arrives at the police station to enact justice on the guy who's been wrongfully accused of killing several children. Jack manages to prevent a riot. One person in the crowd (a local muckraking journalist) deliberately attempts to re-ignite things, only to be taken out by a cop's flashlight.
- Royals Who Actually Do Something: Sophie, though just what her actual role in matters is isn't made clear.
- Shout-Out: One character compares Jack to Lucas Davenport.
- Split Personality Takeover: Subverted. It is implied at the beginning that Charles Burnside is a man in the advanced stages of Alzheimer's who is sometimes brought to lucidity by his former personality, Carl Bierstone. It turns out that Burnside is just an assumed name rather than a whole new personality, and that his occasional forays into consciousness are brought about by Mr. Munshun's influence.
- True Companions: Subverted with the Thunder Five biker gang, which is noted several times throughout for its members being profoundly loyal to one another. Then, the failed assault on Black House kills one of them and scares the other two so badly that they run away and it is implied that their association ends with this show of cowardice, though it is not stated outright.
- Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Played with. Judy Marshall is described as extremely beautiful. Jack marvels that someone like Fred could be so lucky as to marry a woman like Judy, though this is more because Judy is fierce and courageous and Fred is kind, softhearted and rather naive, rather than because of looks (Fred is described as handsome and athletic, but still plain in comparison to his wife).
- Would Hurt a Child: The Fisherman specifically targets young children and is extraordinary brutal. Children are also used as highly-expendable slave labor at the Big Combination.
- Victory Guided Amnesia: Jack has almost entirely forgotten about his adventures in and out of the Territories as a child.