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Audiobook Review: Black House by Stephen King and Peter Straub

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Black House was first published in 2001 by Random House, and is a follow-up to The Talisman, also a collaboration between the two horror writers. In it, we follow Jack Sawyer on another journey into a parallel universe known as the Territories, where his friend the wolfman once perished years and years before, when he went there to save his mother and his mother’s “twinner,” who was the queen of the Territories.

Now, Jack is a retired LA homicide detective living alone in small town Wisconsin, having no memory of his earlier adventures. At least no memories that he is aware of. When a killer appears to terrorize the country side, dubbed “the Fisherman,” since his methods reminds the town of a years earlier madman named Albert Fish, Jack is called out to help local law enforcement find and bring to justice this new menace. On this mission, Jack is drawn back to the Territories and must face the evil that lives there once more.

The audio version of this book has a lot of potential, a good story and a narrator who is well loved and experienced in the field, namely Frank Muller, who has been the narrator of choice for, amongst others, John Grisham’s books. This time, however, I find little good to say about the effort.

The story itself is very good, though hurried at times, but if you enjoy Stephen King’s books and story telling methods, then this is right up your alley. Sticking with the written version is recommended, however, since the audio version leaves a lot to be desired. Frank Muller may be experienced, and there are a lot of audiobook listeners out there that love him, but only fifteen minutes into the 26 hours and 33 minutes that it takes him to read Black House, I wanted to turn it off and delete it from my media library. Frank reads in a whispery hoarse, overly dramatic voice that grates on the ears and tears at the mind, making any kind of effort to follow the story and the characters extremely difficult and tiring, just the opposite of what an audiobook is supposed to do. The character voices are well thought up, but Frank has some trouble keeping them apart, it seems, and they blend into a single thick goo, usually when the story’s pace picks up and the action becomes a little heated.

It could be that Frank Muller’s style is an acquired taste, as they say, but that just doesn’t cut it for me. Even though I have only heard snippets of other readings he has done, his performance with Black House has effectively turned me off listening to any more books read by him, though there are great stories with his name on them as narrator.

In the end, Black House is a great story, even if some critics have said that the ending leaves you hanging somewhat, and the plot is at times unclear. The book is not daunting when it comes to overall length and is a must if you’ve read The Talisman. It is actually with a great deal of sorrow that I have to advise that you stay away from the audio version, however, unless you’re already a hardened fan of Frank Muller and his style and voice.

This time, go for paper instead of tape.

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