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Mr. X

by Peter Straub

Library Journal The "Mr. X" of the title is the shade that seems to follow Ned Dunstan through life. Ned is the only son of Star, a part-time lounge singer and itinerant artist who comes from an unusually talented family. As Ned states early on in the book, he was always looking for his shadow. He doesn't know his father growing up but learns the truth about him in the course of the book. What Ned eventually finds is the crux of the plotÄsuffice it to say that his discoveries are unsettling. Mr. X proves that Straub (The Hellfire Club) is worthy of his reputation as a master of horror. Compelling writing and well-drawn characters make this novel very readable, but the labyrinthine plot seems forced; it does include some sexual situations and some violence. Recommended for all suspense/ horror collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 4/1/99.]ÄAlicia Graybill, Lincoln City Libs., NE Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.

(c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Publishers Weekly Since the publication of Koko in 1988, Straub has specialized in macabre mysteries dense with the details of small-town life and cast with ordinary people who find that the extraordinary crimes they investigate raise doubts about their own moral integrity. In this bravura new outing, he returns to his horror roots, lacing an ingenious whodunit with an intoxicating shot of the supernatural. From childhood, Ned Dunstan has experienced precognitive visions, a recurring dream of being tethered to a shadow and "the sense that something crucially significant, something without which I could never be whole, was missing." Summoned home to Edgerton, Ill., by a premonition of his mother's death on the eve of his 35th birthday, Ned finds himself implicated in a tangle of felonies and murders, all of which point to someone strenuously manipulating events to frame him. Digging into local history, he finds reason to believe that the mysterious father he never knew, or possibly a malignant doppelg?nger, are pulling the strings. Meanwhile, Mr. X, a homicidal misanthrope who reads H.P. Lovecraft's otherworldly horror fiction as gospel, cuts a swath of supernatural destruction across the country, en route to a showdown with his son, the "shadow-self" whom he must annihilate. Discerning readers will recognize this surprise-filled tale of tortuous family relationships as a modern variation on Lovecraft's classic shocker "The Dunwich Horror." But Straub turns his pulp model inside out, transforming its vast cosmic mystery into an ingrown odyssey of self-discovery and a probing study of human nature. His evocative prose, a seamless splice of clipped hard-boiled banter and poetic reflection, contributes to the thick atmosphere of apprehension that makes this one of the most invigorating horror reads of the year. BOMC main selection. (Aug.) FYI: This spring, Subterranean Press published a chapbook, Peter and PTR: Two Discarded Prefaces and an Introduction, that includes framing material that Straub wrote for, and then cut from, Mr. X. Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.

(c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Book list Ned Dunstan goes home to Edgerton, Illinois, because he feels certain his mother is going to die there. Star Dunstan, a drifting jazz singer, left after Ned's early childhood, yet there she is, in an ICU with a stroke. Before she dies, she tells Ned the name of his father and another name, Robert. It turns out, in Straub's lumbering, ramshackle thriller, that Robert is Ned's twin, whom Star was sure she was bearing but who didn't turn up after labor. Robert is a shadow, a doppelganger, who has mastered the Dunstan family trick of self-teleportation. Unfortunately, so has their daddy, a psychopath who believes H. P. Lovecraft's horror stories are not fiction. He is Mr. X, capable of lethally materializing and dematerializing to leave only the splashed blood of his eviscerated victims behind. He means to destroy Ned before, he believes, Ned somehow destroys him. Ned first has to find him, which involves much family secret-divulging, amateur shamusing, and sack-time for Ned with the book's best-lookin' babes. As frosting on the cake, Ned eventually learns the other Dunstan family trick, willed time-travel or, as they call it, eating time. Self-important small-town millionaires, cops corrupt and honest, the crusty elder Dunstans, and red-light district lowlifes join the aforementioned babes in the crowded cast of what is essentially a spooky detective yarn, the sort of thing 1950s genre hands like Fredric Brown and Robert Bloch could turn into a crackerjack 192-page paperback. Straub's treatment still amuses, but someone should send him a blue pencil for Christmas. --Ray Olson

From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

Library Journal In Straub's latest, a return to the supernatural, Ned Dunstan discovers some spooky things about his identity when he hits 35.

(c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

 

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