Follow TV Tropes


Literature / Black House

Go To
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.

Jack now lives in the bucolic town of French Landing, Wisconsin, 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 killer dubbed The Fisherman, one who targets children and has a taste for their flesh in imitation of Albert Fish, a child murderer 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 Ace: Sawyer is exceptionally handsome and brilliant, and just about all the decent characters express something approaching awe at his abilities at some point in the novel. It's heavily implied that his abilities and good looks are at least to some extent the products of his time in the Territories and exposure to the Talisman.
  • The Alcoholic: Wanda Kinderling stopped paying for cable so she could afford more vodka.
  • Alien Geometries: Black House, both inside and out. Blink, and the house suddenly looks much taller or smaller than before. It's also Bigger on the Inside.
  • The Alleged Car: Wendell Green's red Toyota, described as a "traveling sneer".
  • 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.
  • And This Is for...: When going to Black House, Jack manages to surprise and kill the crow Gorg. He then spits on the bird's corpse for luring the kids to the Fisherman, and proceeds to kick it for driving Irma's mother insane (see Mind Rape below).
  • 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.
  • Beethoven Was an Alien Spy: Along with Charles Burnside, Mr. Munshun's avatars in the human world are shown to have included the likes of Albert Fish, Jeffrey Dahmer, and Fritz Haarmann, among many, many others.
  • 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.
  • The Cavalry: Parkus invokes the concept of The Cavalry in comparing the Dark Tower to a besieged mission in old Western movies. However, he quickly disabuses Jack of the notion that Sawyer and his friends back in Wisconsin play that role. Roland and his ka-tet are the cavalry — they're the ones who are destined to save the day. Jack's role is to fight a delaying action, ruin the Crimson King's plan and give Roland a chance to do what he's supposed to do.
  • 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.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: How Charles Burnside meets his demise, at the hands of Tyler; while Burnside is handcuffing Tyler to a pair of shackles, Tyler uses his free hand to grab, crush and eventually tear off Burnside's testicles. Then he takes advantage of the injuries Henry inflicted on Burnside earlier to tear out the man's intestines. Burnside himself inadvertently helps Tyler here when, in his panic, he tries to back away from the boy. The narration even lampshades how that is possibly the worst thing you can do if someone has hold of your intestines.
  • 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 Grimdark 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.
  • Dramatic Ammo Depletion: During the press conference to honor the four heroes that stopped the Fisherman, Wanda Kinderling draws a gun and shoots Jack Sawyer multiple times, shouts "See You in Hell Hollywood", and aims the gun at her head... only to realize that, in her eagerness, she forgot to save the last bullet for herself.
  • 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.
  • Feathered Fiend: Gorg the crow, who serves Mr. Munshun, and by extend Charles Burnside.
  • Frameup: Halfway through the novel, the Fisherman tries to frame George Potter, a man that he still had a bone to pick with, for the murders by placing incriminating photo's of all the death children in the latter's home. Potter is arrested and comes close to being lynched by an Angry Mob, but fortunately Jack doesn't believe in his guilt.
  • Genius Bruiser: The Thunder Five are boisterous, brawling, hard-drinking, leather-wearing bikers with big, bushy beards and missing teeth. They are also all college graduates, well-read gentlemen who are very knowledgeable about literature and philosophy and are skilled ale brewers whose product is absolutely legit. "Thunder Five" is only what locals call them; they call themselves "The Hegelian Scum".
  • The Heavy: The demon Munshun possessing Charles Burnside serves as this as it drives the events of the plot, murdering the children with psychic powers in service of the Big Bad, The Crimson King.
  • Hell Hotel: While the Thunder 5 are looking for the Black House, Sonny recalls an incident from the summer after his high school graduation. He and 2 friends, Sal Turso and Harry Reilly, got lost while on a trip, and spend the night in a Ghost Town. While Sal and Harry slept in an abandoned motel, Sonny opted to sleep outside in the field since he didn't like the place. The following day, Sonny discovered to his horror that Sal had murdered Harry, and somehow didn't remember doing so.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Jack and Henry are just about inseparable, one visiting the other almost every day.
  • 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.
  • Jumping Off the Slippery Slope: Wendell Green is, for much of the book, morally shady but not irrevocably unethical. Jack and the other characters hate him, but that's the nature of the relationship between cops and reporters. Paying some small sums of cash ($20 or so) to folks so he can get access to records and conversations is not approved by media ethicists, but a lot of reporters do it. And the tone of his stories, while opinionated, is not unacceptable. But he leaps headlong off the slippery slope at the police station, when he actively attempts to spark a dormant riot so he can get a better story. He actually realizes how unethical that is, but shrugs it off.
  • Karma Houdini: Wendell Green gets his head knocked around several times, but things actually work out pretty well for the unethical reporter. He gets some photos of Black House before Jack and Company blow it up and sells the photos for a ton of money. Then, he gets the perfect photo of Jack's assassination.
  • 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.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: As happened at the end of The Talisman, the collapse of the Big Combination causes bad things to happen to bad people, only now, this effect affects the entire multiverse.
  • 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. Several other characters have a tendency to rant, in Mr. Munshun's strange accent, unpleasant gibberish about foxes in foxholes, rats in ratholes, etc.
  • 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.
    • Reginald Amberson, aka Doc, is still haunted by an incident where, due to exhaustion, he incorrectly calculated the dosage of medicine for a patient named Daisy Temperly, and she died because of overdose. It's because of this that he quit medicine forever. When he accompanies Jack to Black House, the house tries to scare him away by taunting him with an illusion of Daisy.
  • No-Sell: When Jack, Doc, Dale and Beezer stop Munshun from leaving with Tyler, Munshun tries to take them out with a word in the Dark Speech; Pnung!. While he knows it probably won't work on Jack, he still expects it to paralyze the other three. But much to his dismay, none of the men are affected.
  • 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.
  • Power Limiter: When Burnside takes Tyler to Munshun, he forces the boy to put on a metal cap that surpresses his telekinetic powers. After Tyler kills Burnside, Munshun first makes sure the boy is still wearing the cap before capturing him.
  • 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.
  • Rhetorical Question Blunder: During a standoff with Munshun, the heroes tell him that he might end up dead if he doesn't give them Tyler and asks if that's what he want. Munshun doesn't answer, but notes to himself that if the alternative is returning to the Crimson King and reporting failure, then death would be his preference, yes.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: Sophie, though just what her actual role in matters is isn't made clear.
  • Sexy Secretary: Rebecca Vilas is a bit more than a secretary to Chipper Maxton.
  • Shear Menace: Burnside uses a pair of razorsharp hedgeclippers to kill Henry. Among other things, he clips off some of Henry's fingers. Later he does the same to Georgette Potter (a nurse at Maxton Elder Care Facility), and Chipper Maxton.
  • 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 two others 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.
  • Virtuous Bees: A large swarm of bees comes to Jack's aid when he, Dale, Beezer and Doc break into Black House; a queen bee guides them through the maze inside the house, and the bees follow them into the world beyond it to stop Munshun. Earlier in the story, Jack summons a swarm of bees to convince the other three men that they are dealing with something supernatural.
  • Your Mind Makes It Real: Jack protects his allies from the Black House‚Äôs effects simply by telling them confidently that smearing some honey on their face will stop it. Because they trust him enough to believe it will work, it does.