Lost Boy, Lost Girl Review with a Brief Tribute to Peter Straub

PeterStraubThis year we lost a renowned horror author.  R.I.P. Peter Straub. He left us on Sept 4, 2022.  Not only did he pass away on my wedding anniversary but we share the same birthday – March 2.  Does this mean we are cosmically linked in some way? Most likely not.  I don’t put too much credence in cosmic/spiritual mumbo jumbo. I do like to read and write about it, that’s for sure, but I see it for what it is – fiction, not fact.   Straub certainly has left the world some compelling fiction, that’s for sure. And like any author, he also left us some fiction that is in the upper realms of the “OK” rating scale.  This is where Lost Boy, Lost Girl sits at. Is there an OK + grade?  There is now.

I suppose his most celebrated works are Ghost Story and The Talisman, with the latter being co-authored by Stephen King.  I read the former, loved it; haven’t attempted the latter.  My review of Ghost Story is not without some minor criticism.  In the review, I suggest:

At times during my reading, I found myself lost in the tangled trails of plot. Yes, these trails do untangle and eventually lead you where you want to go, but still, it was a tedious experience at times.

I wrote this review in 2016 – six years ago. What I said remains true. However, there is something about Ghost Story that has stuck with me all this time.  I’m not good at remembering the details of a story I read some time ago, including its characters (especially not their names.)  Likewise with Ghost Story. Specific details are lost but there is a feeling that remains. That’s the best way I can describe it.  A small town, a snowy atmosphere, several haunted houses, mystery, all in the meaty book; thoroughly presented and forever imprinted within my soul.   Thus, my liking of this book has increased over time.

As mentioned, I never read The Talisman. My understand is that while this is a critically acclaimed novel, a reader, like a traveler, must prepare for a lengthy journey before beginning such an adventure. Since this is a blog dedicated to haunted houses, I haven’t been in a hurry to dive into this book. But I do read books, both horror and non-horror, that have nothing to do with haunted houses.  So read this I will someday and I’m sure I will at least like it more that I will dislike it.

I wish I could say more about Peter Straub’s work. As it stands, I have only read three of his novels. Besides Ghost Story, I read Julia and Lost Boy, Lost Girl, two haunted house novels.  Neither are as good as Ghost Story.

Julia is another book I place in the “Ok” department. While delightfully creepy, I found it quite vague in its telling. This was Straub’s first venture into the supernatural and I equate it to a “practice book”, a preparatory exercise that would allow him to strengthen his telling of supernatural tales, as evidenced by his later work Ghost Story

I wrote this in a review:

To me, Julia is the “practice novel;” an exercise Straub must perform while on the way toward the masterpiece that is Ghost Story. Straub learns from his early works. The fruits of his creative and mechanical maturity bear out symbolically, from the ghost of a young girl (in Julia) to the ghost of a fully grown woman (In Ghost Story). This time, Straub’s vagueness add to the overall eeriness of the story.

Now – on with my review of Lost Boy, Lost Girl.  I also recommend this book lukewarmly, but for different reasons.  It’s a decent story overall.  A simple story with only a handful of characters. Good characters, mind you.  Most of the plot is straightforward. It doesn’t meander and his points are relatively clear.  However, more story-telling is needed in regards to my favorite subject – the haunted house. Now you might be thinking, “Well Cheely, just because that’s your thing, it doesn’t have to be at the heart of the story just to please you. Who are you, Cheely, that Straub must write according to your preferences?”  Reader, I’ll get to your critique of my critique.  You’ll see.

The plot unfolds from the perspectives of two characters; the middle-aged writer Timothy Underhill and his teenaged nephew Mark.  Timothy visits his brother Phillip, who lives in another state, on two occasions, both of which are under sad and tragic circumstances. First, he arrives to attend the funeral services of Phillip’s wife/Mark’s mother Nancy who died by suicide. A short while later, Timothy returns to assist Phillip in trying to find Mark, who has gone missing. Other teens had gone missing and there is a suspicion that a serial killer is striking terror in the community. Could Mark have been a victim of this killer? Is his mother’s suicide related to his disappearance?  For you see, as it turns out. Nancy is related to a serial killer who was captured some time ago. This killer’s house still stands, though no one will have anything to do with it. It’s just down the alley from Phillip and Mark’s house. Yes readers, this be the haunted house of the novel.

Mark’s perspective has him with his buddy Jimbo frittering the days away on their skateboard; two carefree teens. That is until he finds his mother’s body. He suspects there is a link to her suicidal demise and the strange things he has been seeing. In various places, he has encountered a phantom shadowy figure. What peaks Marks attention most, though, is the abandoned house down the alley. A giant wall surrounding the premise hides most of it. Why is this wall necessary?  Both boys note an awkwardly built and oddly shaped extension which they correctly surmise was added on to the house by the previous owners. Their assumptions our correct, but why this extension?  The boys see people in the windows, though this place is supposed to be abandoned. What’s up with that?

Suddenly and somewhat mysteriously, Mark becomes obsessed with the house. No longer does he want to “fritter and waste the hours in an offhand way” with his buddy Jimbo. He wants to watch the house. He wants to research the house. He wants to explore the house. And he does!

Sounds like an interesting story, right? Well it is.  Inside, he finds secret passages. He finds mysterious photographs. He encounters torture devices!  And yet, in my opinion, the atmosphere of the inside of the house isn’t fleshed out enough. There is all this build up throughout the first half of the novel, before the boys brave their way inside.  Though the house reveals secrets to them, their journeys inside are a bit of a letdown.  What is the overall atmosphere like inside? Straub doesn’t detail this very much. Do they hear ghostly sounds coming from the dark corners of the rooms? Not really.  Is there any backstory with scenes inside its rooms? Some but not much.  Does the house itself do its job to scare the reader? I would have to say “no.”

If there wasn’t a lot of suspense centered on the house, I wouldn’t complain so much. But there was and so I complain. Yes there are supernatural things at work in this story, but not in the way that is expected. Not in a way that is satisfying.

Straub wrote a sequel to this book called “In the Night Room”. I haven’t read it.  According to Wikipedia:

“The novel follows Timothy Underhill, an author. He is still struggling to come to terms with the loss of his sister April and Timothy tries to channel his sorrow and frustrations into a new novel he is writing”.

Hmmm. I don’t remember anything about Timothy and Phillip having a sister. The way the story in Lost Boy, Lost Girl flows, it seems as if they were the only two siblings. So I really don’t know how much continuity is preserved between the two books.

So, based on my limited knowledge of Peter Straub’s bibliography, Ghost Story is his best. I’m anxious to read The Talisman.  I know,  I know, earlier I said I’ll get to it whenever. Perhaps my interest has piqued a bit since beginning this article. Will you allow me that? Of course you will.

How about you, reader? Can you recommend a Peter Straub book that is on par with Ghost Story?

And to you, Peter Straub, rest in peace. I won’t wish you to rest in power which seems to be a thing now. After passing through this earthly life, I believe one is mercifully freed of this concept of power.  Power certainly can’t be restful, and the dearly departed need to rest. They have earned it. Peace is the better way experience the afterlife.

My Novel “The Acquaintance” is on sale for 99 Cents!

Today, my latest book  The Acquaintance went on sale. For one week, it will be sold for the low, low price of 99 pennies! Of course, here in the digital age, you don’t have to scrounge around for 99 pennies. You can just use your Amazon account and download it to your reader, and your credit card will figure out how to give Amazon 99 pennies. Pretty nifty, huh?

It’s a relatively short read but it’s slightly over 50,000 words, which is considered to be the minimum novel length. But come on, not bad for 99 pennies!

To get an idea of the story and writing style, I offer this excerpt.  Hope you enjoy it!

(Click the picture below to go to the Amazon buy link!)


TheAcquaintanceBookCoverWithTitleAuthorIt happened again. Footprints formed before his stunned eyes overabout 150 yards across the field, one ahead of the other. This time they weren’t passing along the side of the house. This time they made their way toward the window. Coming at him.  One after another, pressing their way into reality with silent “pops!”

Jonah flew into a rage. He ran quickly to his coat, hat and gun. He gathered these items in his arms in one scoop. His gloves he handled with more care. Seconds  later he was out the door, haphazardly  dressed, his gun on a strap and hanging loosely over his shoulder. His gloves covered  his hands from his wrists to the tips of his middle fingers. 

Walking around to the rear of the house, Jonah made his way across the field, walking in the direction from which the footprints had come. He could see them up ahead. There were tracks leading to his picture window, that was for certain. They seemed to have originated from somewhere in the middle of the field. No longer were they forming in real time. Jonah marched forward, following the tracks into the open field,  tromping through the snow in his street shoes. He didn’t want to waste time putting on his boots and he was regretting that decision; his feet were freezing. Though he could see no one, he knew someone had to be there (Something?). Despite what his eyes told him, footprints didn’t create themselves.

By trekking across the middle of the field, he was abandoning all the precautions he had taken when he ventured out yesterday, precautions he had also neglected on his return  trip back to the house. Bad habits, laziness, outright foolishness had come to describe his work. Jonah realized all this but he forgave himself. By and large, his gangster days were finished. He was retired, but he needed to make just one more kill. And at the moment, his rage made him feel invincible, even to bullets that just might happen to come his way from inside the surrounding  woods. Yesterday’s Jonah was blinded by a similar rage. Today’s Jonah was a different man. Yes, he was terribly sick (he was short of breath throughout his walk) and over-anxious to catch whoever was stalking him, but he would think clearly this time. He would keep his wits. It wouldn’t be long now, since the trail of footprints were coming to an end. Jonah saw a pair of hightop gym shoes at the end of the trail. Sitting there as if they had always been in that exact spot, perhaps like one of the trees ringing the field.

They were as white as the snow that surrounded them, which might have been why he hadn’t seen them from the window. Still, none of this made any sense. Shoes couldn’t walk without a body, but the tracks stopped where the shoes stood. Jonah could only conclude that whoever had been wearing them ditched them before running off into the woods. However, there were no tracks leading into the trees indicating such a thing happened. All physical evidence pointed to the actual existence of a walking pair of shoes that more properly belonged on a basketball  court, not on the snowy grounds of his hideaway.

They are trying to fuck with me! Whoever is trying to kill me is trying to drive me crazy before they go on for the kill. 

Jonah approached the shoes slowly. Could there be a bomb attached to them somehow? Hadn’t a terrorist tried to blow up a plane by starting his shoes on fire, forcing travelers to remove their shoes at security checkpoints in airports ever since? He crouched down. He choked down a cough, fearing that its sound could set off the potential explosives. Carefully, he extended his hand . He would just press down on the rubber front tip of the shoe, just to make sure they were real. To make sure that…

Something happened.

Jonah recoiled and fell on his rear. His face was soaked with sweat. He was dizzy…and afraid. For the first time in many, many years, he admitted to himself that he was scared. 

The shoe hadn’t blown up. If it had, this situation would have made more sense, would have at least conformed to the laws of the universe. Instead, the shoe backed away, moving as if it were pulled by some invisible force. All Jonah could do is look on in amazement, his eyes fixed not only on the left shoe  now several inches out of line with its right counterpart, but also on the track line that the shoe had left in the snow after it slid across its surface. 

Jonah sat there in the snow, dumbfounded. If he were to get up, stand on his own two shoes, what then?  Would he move in on this pair of high tops? Was it these shoes that were his enemy, his target for termination? Seriously? How pathetic!


Perhaps he would simply back away, or even run away (he never ran.) This was the situation he found himself in…really? Debating on whether or not to retreat from a pair of fucking shoes? Oh, how he would rather have someone pointing a gun to his head. That would have made sense. He wouldn’t have to fear an approaching bullet, because a bullet would do exactly what it was supposed to do. No mystery, no surprise. But these shoes, they were doing the impossible!

The impossible suddenly became even stranger. The shoe closest to him, started to tap. Up/down, up/down the tip went, pushing itself in and out of the snow. It was the tap of a waiting person, like a pen against the desk at an office meeting, waiting for the boss’s decision.  An empty pair of shoes, waiting for Jonah to get up off his ass, waiting for him to make his move.

Mesmerized, he watched the tapping of the shoe, transfixed. It was nearly hypnotic, like when a person stares at a watch on a chain swinging back and forth, back and forth.  

Maybe that’s it, he thought. I’m hypnotized. All this is happening in my mind!

As if in response, the tapping shoe dug deeply into the snow. Coming back up, it kicked snow into Jonah’s face. He felt the stinging cold and wiped the wetness out of his eyes. Real sensations. Real snow on his face. That kind of assault would wake anyone out of a trance. If indeed he had been in a trance, he was awake now and still the shoes were there, causing mischief. 

Sometime when he had been wiping his face, both shoes turned the opposite direction. They walked away from him toward the line of trees, leaving tracks in their wake. Jonah got back on to his feet. He approached the tracks and crouched over, examining one of the footprints closely. These were the same tracks he saw yesterday. He straightened up and watched as the creepy pair of shoes walked out of sight into the forest.




Algernon Blackwood and Haunted Houses

Weird Fiction From Algernon Blackwood

“You’re weird!”

I have been hit with this accusation several times, even by members of my own family. (They would know me best I guess.)  So it would naturally follow that I should like weird fiction. Guess what? I do!

Ann and Jeff VanderMeer remind us of what the Weird Fiction genre entails. In their introductory article on the subject, they refer to H.P Lovecraft, the master of all things weird.  According to him, “weird” stories have “a supernatural element” but are to be distinguished from the classic Gothic ghost stories of the seventeenth century. A “weird” tale, according to Lovecraft “has something more than secret murder, bloody bones, or a sheeted form clanking chains.”  What might it have instead?  A “pursuit of some indefinable and perhaps maddeningly unreachable understanding of the world beyond the mundane.”

My efforts to analyze and categorize haunting tales has certainly seemed “maddeningly unreachable”. Me – a weirdo’s dive into the weird.  This is gothic, this is not. This is cosmic horror, this is…oh it’s so damn confusing! It’s all so…”weird.”

Algernon BlackwoodMaking the list of authors associated with Weird Fiction is Algernon Blackwood. Known mostly as a writer of ghost stories, Blackwood entered the publishing world shortly before H.P. Lovecraft. (his first published work around 1906 compared to Lovecraft’s first published material in 1916)  (See bilbliographies on Alergnon Blackood and H.P. Lovecraft.)

According to FantasiticFiction.com,  Blackwood was influenced heavily by Occultism, hypnotism, the supernatural, Hindu philosophy and mysticism.  Quite the gamut of influential “isms” for which to expand the elements of a traditional  ghost or horror story if I do say so myself. 


Nature is Scary. So is the Human Mind that Tries to Understand Nature

Sometime over a year ago, I purchased a collection of his works for my Kindle app. I haven’t read it in its entirety, but I combed through quite a few.  Most of his stories show his love for nature. Perhaps “intrigue” is a better word, because what he describes isn’t always a love fest. It’s nature in all its awe, its mystery and yes, its horror.

One of his most well-known stories is The Willows.  Way out in the middle of wooded nowhere, along the Danube River, exist these Willows.  These creeping trees (for they sometimes seem to do so) penetrate the psyches of two terrified travelers.  Then there is The Man Whom The Trees Loved. There is something unnatural about the relationship a man has with these trees. He chooses their companionship over his wife.

In these nature tales, the elements of nature take on human traits. Winds cry, trees sing, you get the idea.  The people in his stories that experience such interactions with nature find themselves at the cusp of the terrifying unknown.  Nothing is as what it seems. This is true as well in his stories that have less to do with nature. Stories, say, that involve – haunted houses!

In most of the haunted house stories I have read, the haunting is revealed to is characters not necessarily be what they see or hear. It is what they feel, or what they perceive in general that lets them know that something isn’t quite right with their surroundings. In short, the perception of the haunting is most felt inside their minds. Perhaps with a slight exception of the first story in my syllabus below, this will be shown over and over in the haunted house tales I describe.


A few other things to note, perhaps trademarks of an Algernon Blackwood tale.

  • He writes cerebral horror
  • He writes in passive, a style rebuffed by modern standards that really works well for what he is trying to get across
  • Important concepts, often personified, are capitalized.


Let’s go explore some of his haunted houses, shall we? Please note, this isn’t a complete list of his haunted house stories. Want more? Find his anthology and read it!


Haunted Houses From  Algeron Blackwood

Algernon Blackwood the empty house


The Empty House – 1906

Let us begin with this short and simple tale.  Perhaps this story strays most from the Blackwood criteria I outlined in the sections above in that the haunting unveils itself through sights and sounds experienced by the two sole characters. But this doesn’t make it the lesser. I enjoyed this tale very much and there is plenty of cerebral description going on to describe the haunting.

A young man is visiting his aunt. The aunt is curious about the abandoned haunted house on the other side of town, so she coaxes her nephew to join her in exploring it. She wants to experience a good scare. They procure a key to the place, and an exploring they do go, and the reader goes with them. Room after room, up the stairs, down the hallways. They hear eerie sounds. They see unsightly things. Each one wonders if the other is as afraid as they are.

I will not say much more about this story except to note a couple of things. Shirley Jackson proclaims in her novel The Haunting of Hill House “Some houses are born bad.”  Several decades earlier The Empty House was published.  This story contains the line, “Certain houses, like certain persons, manage somehow to proclaim at once their character of evil.” Both lines mean essentially the same thing. Perhaps Jackson is more to the point, but “overwriting” was common in the days of yore (overwriting by today’s standards, that is).  I like both lines and I just wanted to point out that Blackwood’s observation of the phenomenon came first.

To further illustrate the “house as a character of evil” phenomenon, Blackwood writes “…the aroma of evil deeds committed under a particular roof, long after the actual doers have passed away, that makes the gooseflesh come and the hair rise.”  This line here demonstrates characters experiencing the haunting by means other then their eyes and ears. They feel the haunting on their skin.


The Whisperers   – 1912


A writer rents an attic room.  He is alone, and only the bare essentials are requested.  A bed, writing table, lamp, wash basin, window.  And yet this rather empty room is filled with the haunting remains of …something. Something that has lingered.

The writer comes to know this to be true.  He arrives at this truth not by sight, sound, or touch.  It is the workings of his own writer’s mind that discovers these facts.  His own thought process is interrupted.  In its place are Impressions, feelings, ideas, and images. They bombard his mind, these “whispers”.  Soon he discerns the nature of these whisperers and comes to understand the past history of this attic room. What was it and what was it meant for?  The answer is not what you might think.


The House of the Past – 1914


The Dream turned her key to The House of the Past”.  Isn’t this line something?  It is, in fact, the key to understanding the theme of this story.  Perhaps the only way to traverse a haunted house such as “the House of the Past” is by a dream. Dreams contain the experiences we have chosen, or not chosen, to hide from ourselves.  At least our conscious selves. These experiences are the ghosts.

The character in this story visits The House of the Past. He experiences its haunting demeanor as if in a trance.   The haunting unfolds in revelations.

Several lines in the story reveal Blackwood’s fondness of the elements of nature and their metaphoric ability to capture mood.

“’The wind, like the sea, speaks to the inmost memory’,” she added, ‘and that is why its voice is one of such deep spiritual sadness. It is the song of things for ever incomplete, unfinished, unsatisfying.’”


A Psychical Invitation –  1908


This is one of several stories involving the character known as John Silence.  He is a psychical detective. A ghostbuster ahead of his time.  He comes to the aid of an unfortunate writer. The poor sap, his mind is disturbed. He cannot write. This is on account of a mysterious presence that haunts his house, the writer surmises.  Oh how he wishes he hadn’t sampled some of that cannabis indica. He only did so to expand his writer’s mind. What it did instead was open his field of awareness to the paranormal.  In this heightened state of mind,  he is aware of the presence and deeply troubled by it.

(side note: man, they smoked some good shit back in them there days. The Cannabis Indica available at today’s dispensaries don’t have that paranormal side effect!)

John Silence advises the man to leave the house while he, the psychical detective, stays in the haunted house to get to the bottom of things.  Things go as planned and John is aided by to assistants who will also stay in the haunted house. These two are more attuned to psychical activity than he is. They are a dog and a cat.

Late at night, when all is dark and the fire is low, John watches the activity of the animals.  He notes that the cat is mysteriously playful with something that he himself cannot see. He also observes the dog in a frightful state, backing away from certain parts of the rom. 

This tale is longer. It’s a novella, perhaps. A good portion of this story dedicates itself to the evolution of the haunting through the observed actions of this dog and cat. It is a creative way to tell a ghost story with effective tension-building techniques.

The Damned – 1914

Algernon Blackwood the Damned

For me, this is the most difficult story to both summarize and opine upon.  How do you capture in a few words

the heart of a story where nothing ever happens and yet make it sound appealing.  See it is an intriguing story, but one must give it a chance.

It’s nine chapters long; the longest of any of Blackwood’s stories that I read.  The longest and yet, “nothing happens?”  That line appears many times throughout the story. I would say it’s nearly a tagline, but any marketing professional out there would see this as a poor choice of words. You’re trying to sell a story where nothing happens? What is this, the horror version of Seinfeld – the show about nothing?

Let me try and explain.  A man and his sister vacate for a lengthy stay and their dear friend Mabel’s estate. The host is a depressed widow, but her depression is not necessarily the result of grief for her lost love. But the dead hubbie has plenty to do with her emotional state. While we’re at it, he has plenty to do with the overall foreboding atmosphere of the entire house and grounds.  Bill and Frances, the two guests, will sample much of this dreariness.

The dead husband was a religious bigot. Stern in his ways and doctrine, unforgiving of others that don’t share his beliefs. Though gone from this earth, his ruthless piety remains.  It is imprinted on the house. Bill and Frances come to learn the house is haunted, but not by conventional ghosts. It is haunted by the disembodied spirit of the dismal.

Both learn of the haunting by intuition.  But their realization comes slowly, as if the gears of their intuitive processes, like a clock with a faulty second hand, struggle to turn. Meanwhile, days go by unfruitfully. Bill, a writer, cannot write. There is no joy anywhere. In short, “nothing ever happens”.

A clue to this situation emerges when Bill studies his sister’s artwork. She paints the outside surroundings of the house. In a word, the paintings are “horrid”.  This is not a description of the artist’s talent but the resulting impact her work has on the one who beholds her paintings.

It is her paintings that allows Bill do see the house and its grounds in a “new light”. More appropriately, in a new kind of darkness.  In short, he intuits a shadow.

The “Shadow” and the “Noise” are concepts that occur over and over. They are not seen or heard. Only felt.  The “shadow” blankets areas of the garden. On account of what his sister shows him in her painting, the garden takes on the attributes of a “goblin garden”. Trees and plants are bend in arcane ways. Growth is stunted. He envisions creatures of a goblin garden, centaurs, etc. Remember, he doesn’t see any thing transform into an arena of the supernatural. It’s the same garden since day 1 of their visit. But he now understands if for what it is.

Likewise with “The Noise”. It is nothing he hears, but it is loud, disrupting. It is the sound of a door closing, a door that is only open for moments at a time. It closes and nothing can get through. Nothing can escape. The Damned remain as the damned.










Where Have You Been?? (I’m here now!)


Ghosts.  Haunted Houses.  Halloween approaches and where am I, an author and blogger dedicated to writing about horror?  I am here, that’s where! I know,  haven’t posted very much this year.  Have I posted at all? I dunno, let me go back and check.  Hold on, listen to some music or something.






Well how do you like that? Not one stinking post for 2022. I need a beating. I really, really do.

Sorry about my inactivity. Been a different kind of year. Got a new job that keeps me busy.  Then there was all this stuff I had to do.  You know how stuff is.  It bunches up, then begets other stuff. Soon you have stuff on top of stuff, stuff inside stuff. Suddenly there is so much stuffing you’d think we skipped Halloween altogether to arrive at Thanksgiving.

Time to get my ass in gear.  Every Halloween season, I do some kind of theme at this blog. Last year it was the Haunted House Ha Ha’s – comical films about haunted houses. Another year I compared books to their corresponding films. (i.e. The Exorcist, which is better – Book of movie?) One time I had access to Stephen King’s Rose Red miniseries and I posted a different episode each week.

 This year I’m setting the bar low, so please watch so you don’t trip on it. My plan is to write and post a couple of articles I have been postponing all year.  But wait – there’s more.

TheAcquaintanceBookCoverWithTitleAuthorRemember that book I published last year – The Acquaintance?  No? Oh I see, you did remember but you had forgotten. Well now’s your chance to “reacquaint” yourself with this early winter tale of a phantom pair of shoes that walks about in the woods.  I’ll post excerpts and later this month, I’ll take 50% off the cover price! 


Get your ghostly gear ready folks, because October is here and we are blasting off toward October 31’s waxing crescent moon.  I’ll do what I can to add to the thrills of the season.