Praise for





“The near perfect mystery.… Has everything a classic whodunit should.… Full of intricate, engrossing, flesh- and-blood suspects and heroes.… Unexpected curves and potholes.… The title says it all.”

Milwaukee Sentinel

“Murder, mayhem, mystery.… A complex and satisfying tale.… Compelling characters.… A pulse-pounding climax.”

—The Plain Dealer

“A tightly woven tale, crisply rendered, populated with well-drawn characters.”

San Francisco Chronicle

“Marvelous.… Enormously satisfying.… Unashamedly designed to fascinate.”

—The Sacramento Bee

“The best of Peter Straub’s writing.”

Houston Chronicle

“The characters are outstanding.… They are the story, enshrouded by a nightmare that never lifts. Peter Straub takes bold risks and he succeeds.”

San Jose Mercury News

“Enormously entertaining and scary.… Rich, complex, dark, and tough to put down.”

—New York Daily News

For Lila Kalinich


For Ann Lauterbach

I need, therefore I imagine.


All human society is constructed on complicity in a great crime.


Mill Walk does not exist on any map—let us acknowledge that at the beginning. Extending eastward off Puerto Rico like revisions to an incomplete sentence are the tiny Islas de Culebra and Vieques, in their turn followed by specks named St. Thomas, Tortola, St. John, Virgin Gorda, Anegada—the Virgin Islands—after which the little afterthoughts of Anguilla, St. Martin, St. Barthelemy, St. Eustatius, St. Kitts, Redondo, Montserrat, and Antigua begin to drip south; islands step along like rocks in a stream, Guadeloupe, Dominica, Martinique, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Barbados, the almost infinitesimal Grenadines, and the little green bump of Grenada, an emerald the size of a doll’s fingernail—from there on, only blue-green sea all the way to Tobago and Trinidad, and after that you are in South America, another world. No more revisions and afterthoughts, but another point of view altogether.

In fact, another continent of feeling, one layer beneath the known.

On the island of Mill Walk, a small boy is fleeing down the basement stairs, in so great a hurry to escape the sounds of his mother’s screams that he has forgotten to close the door, and so the diminishing screams follow him, draining the air of oxygen. They make him feel hot and accused, though of an uncertain crime—perhaps only that he can do nothing to stop her screaming.

He hits the bottom stair and jumps down on the concrete floor, claps his hands over his ears, and runs between a shabby green couch and a wooden rocking chair to the heavy, scarred workbench which stands against the wall. Like the furniture, the workbench is his father’s: despite all the tools—screwdrivers and hammers, rasps and files and tin cans full of nails, C-clamps and pliers, a jigsaw and a coping saw, a gimlet and a chisel and a plane, stacks of sandpaper—nothing is ever created or repaired at this bench. A thick layer of dust covers everything. The boy runs beneath the bench and puts his back to the wall. Experimentally, he takes his hands from his ears. One moment of quiet lengthens into another. He can breathe. The basement is cool and silent. He sits down on the concrete and leans against the grey block of the wall and closes his eyes.

The world remains cool, dark, and silent.

He opens his eyes again and sees a cardboard box, half-hidden in the gloom beneath the bench. This, too, is covered with a thick grey blanket of dust. All around the boy are the tracks of his passage—lines and erasures, commas and exclamation points, words written in an unknown language. He slides toward the box through the fuzz of dust, opens the lid, and sees that, although it is nearly empty, down at its bottom rests a small stack of old newspapers. He reaches in and lifts the topmost newspaper and squints at the banner of the headline. Though he is not yet in the first-grade, the boy can read, and the headline contains a half-familiar name. JEANINE THIELMAN FOUND IN LAKE.

One of their neighbors is named Thielman, but the first name, “Jeanine,” is as mysterious as “found in lake.” The next newspaper in the stack also has a banner headline. LOCAL MAN CHARGED WITH THIELMAN MURDER. The next paper down, the last, announces MYSTERY

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