Science Fiction Book Review

In the Night Room

(2005) Peter Straub, HarperCollins, 6.99, pbk, 511pp, ISBN 0-007-18442-5

Following on from lost boy lost girl this volume again stars Straub's writer cum detective/hero Tim Underhill. The disappearance of his nephew, Mark, in the last book served to introduce the crimes of the now deceased serial killer Joseph Kalendar. In this volume Tim is haunted by his own dead sister April, sees angels in the street and receives several e-mails from his hometown of Millhaven, but the senders are all dead too! And then, one day at a reading Tim is giving, he meets Willy Patrick, the heroine of his new book. She is in exactly the predicament Tim has written for her: in an escape from a Bluebeard-type story, Willy has discovered that her new fiance is, in fact, responsible for the death of her previous husband and, she believes, her daughter. Except that Willy has never had a daughter... It seems that Joseph Kalendar, from beyond the grave, has devised a punishment for an error Tim committed in his book about Mark's disappearance, which will lead Tim to the true fate of Kalendar's daughter, Lily. Without giving anything away, there is also a bit more than a hint that there is a third book to come, dealing more directly with Kalendar's crimes.

Tim Underhill is the hero of a previous triptych of Straub novels, Koko, Mystery and The Throat all dealing with the so-called Blue Rose Murders. At first glance lost boy lost girl and In the Night Room are not quite on the same level of excellence as the previous trilogy, but it's usually unwise to underestimate Straub's ability to surprise, so who knows what we might discover once the third book (should there actually be one) is published. The writing is of the quality one would expect from Straub, but some things might irritate. For instance the 'infinite regression' of characters and writers: Straub writes two novels, lost boy lost girl and In the Night Room, about a writer, Tim Underhill who has written two novels of the same name, one of which is about a writer, Willy Patrick, who has also written a novel called In the Night Room... You see what I mean. I can't say it bothers me much, but for those who find mysteries difficult at the best of times, they probably don't need any further confusion. The only thing that bothers me slightly (and it's only very slightly) is that the character of Tim, especially given some of his previous experiences in the first triptych, is unconvincingly Scully-like in his scepticism about the supernatural aspects of his "cases". But that really is a minor quibble. On the whole I would have to say that Straub is still as good as he's ever been and I'd recommend fans to stay with him. New readers, if any, while not absolutely having to read the earlier three novels referred to above, might find it beneficial to read them, if only for the sake of familiarity before plunging into the current crop. But please yourself. However, I would recommend that you at least read lost boy lost girl before attempting In the Night Room.

Tony Chester

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