Review: A Special Place, by Peter Straub

by Dan Stout

A Special Place: The Heart of a Dark MatterA Special Place: The Heart of a Dark Matter by Peter Straub
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

From the jacket:

"A rumination on the nature of evil, the story centers on a boy, Keith Hayward, who is drawn by his nature to an irresistible fascination with death and the taking of life. His father's brother, the good-looking suave Uncle Till - the infamous ladykiller, who has led a shadowy career as a local celebrity - recognizes his nephew's innermost nature and gleefully tutors him in the art of doing ill without getting caught. Even a cold-blooded sociopath must learn some lessons in survival, it seems and Uncle Till is only too happy to provide a tutorial..."

An extremely well written, truly horrific book, "A Special Place" is compelling enough (and short enough) to be read in one sitting, but the disturbing after-images will linger for much longer.

Though this book is filled with violence -- physical, sexual, and psychological -- the majority of it is implied, as Straub describes its aftermath and lets his readers fill in the gaps.

The story he delivers is something of the Anti-Dexter, as budding sociopath Keith is encouraged in his interests by his magnetic uncle Till. Keith is presented as thoroughly dislikeable and corrupted from the start, but there are moments of shocking sympathy as he loses his last tenuous connections to humanity. There may not be any world in which Keith Hayward could have been a GOOD man, but Straub still conveys a sense of loss as Keith becomes a monster.

As a piece of horror fiction this is masterful, but I would hesitate to recommend it to anyone who wasn't committed to taking a very dark ride.

by Dan Stout