Lost Boy Lost Girl

Lost Boy Lost Girl

by Peter Straub

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A woman commits suicide for no apparent reason. A week later, her son– fifteen-year-old Mark Underhill–vanishes. His uncle, novelist Timothy Underhill, searches his hometown of Millhaven for clues that might help unravel this horrible dual mystery. He soon learns that a pedophilic murderer is on the loose in the vicinity, and that shortly before his mother’s suicide, Mark had become obsessed with an abandoned house where he imagined the killer might have taken refuge. No mere empty building, the house whispers from attic to basement with the echoes of a long-hidden true-life horror story, and Tim Underhill comes to fear that in investigating its unspeakable history, Mark stumbled across its last and greatest secret: a ghostly lost girl who may have coaxed the needy, suggestible boy into her mysterious domain.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780449149911
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/28/2004
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 376,594
Product dimensions: 4.15(w) x 6.87(h) x 0.79(d)
Age Range: 14 - 18 Years

About the Author

Peter Straub is the New York Times–bestselling author of more than a dozen novels. In the Night Room and lost boy, lost girl were winners of the Bram Stoker Award, as was his collection 5 Stories. Straub is the editor of numerous anthologies, including the two-volume American Fantastic Tales from the Library of America. He lives in Brooklyn.


New York City

Date of Birth:

March 2, 1943

Place of Birth:

Milwaukee, Wisconsin


B.A. in English, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1965; M.A., Columbia University, 1966

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

Nancy Underhill’s death had been unexpected, abrupt—a death like a slap in the face. Tim, her husband’s older brother, knew nothing more. He could scarcely be said really to have known Nancy. On examination, Timothy Underhill’s memories of his sister-in-law shrank into a tiny collection of snapshots. Here was Nancy’s dark, fragile smile as she knelt beside her two-year-old son, Mark, in 1990; here she was, in another moment from that same visit, snatching up little Mark, both of them in tears, from his baby seat and rushing from the dim unadorned dining room. Philip, whose morose carping had driven his wife from the room, sat glaring at the dried-out pot roast, deliberately ignoring his brother’s presence. When at last he looked up, Philip said, “What?”

Ah Philip, you were ever a wonder. The kid can’t help being a turd, Pop said once. It seems to be one of the few things that make him feel good.

One more of cruel memory’s snapshots, this from an odd, eventful visit Tim had paid to Millhaven in 1993, when he flew the two and a half hours from La Guardia on the same carrier, and from all available evidence also the same craft, as this day: Nancy seen through the screen door of the little house on Superior Street, beaming as she hurried Tim-ward down the unlighted hallway, her face alight with the surprise and pleasure given her by the unexpected arrival on her doorstep of her brother-in-law (“famous” brother-in-law, she would have said). She had, simply, liked him, Nancy had, to an extent he’d understood only at that moment.

That quietly stressed out little woman, often (Tim thought) made wretched by her husband and sewn into her marriage by what seemed determination more than love, as if the preparation of many thousands of daily meals and a succession of household “projects” provided most of the satisfaction she needed to keep her in place. Of course Mark must have been essential; and maybe her marriage had been happier than Tim imagined. For both their sakes, he hoped it had been.

Philip’s behavior over the next few days would give him all the answers he was likely to get. And with Philip, interpretation was always necessary. Philip Underhill had cultivated an attitude of discontent ever since he had concluded that his older brother, whose flaws shone with a lurid radiance, had apparently seized from birth most of the advantages available to a member of the Underhill clan. From early in his life, nothing Philip could get or achieve was quite as good as it would have been but for the mocking, superior presence of his older brother. (In all honesty, Tim did not doubt that he had tended to lord it over his little brother. Was there ever an older brother who did not?) During all of Philip’s adult life, his grudging discontent had been like a role perfectly inhabited by an actor with a gift for the part: somewhere inside, Tim wanted to believe, the real Philip must have lived on, capable of joy, warmth, generosity, selflessness. It was this inner, more genuine self that was going to be needed in the wake of Nancy’s mysterious death. Philip would need it for his own sake if he were to face his grief head-on, as grief had to be faced; but more than that, he would need it for his son. It would be terrible for Mark if his father somehow tried to treat his mother’s death as yet another typical inconvenience different from the rest only by means of its severity.

From what Tim had seen on his infrequent returns to Millhaven, Mark seemed a bit troubled, though he did not wish to think of his nephew in the terms suggested by the word “troubled.” Unhappy, yes; restless; unfocused; afflicted with both a budding arrogance and what Tim had perceived was a good and tender heart. A combination so conflicted lent itself naturally to restlessness and lack of focus. So, as far as Tim remembered, did being fifteen years old. The boy was trim and compact, physically more like his mother than his father: dark-haired and dark-eyed—though presently his hair was clipped so short its color was merely some indeterminate shade of darkness—with a broad forehead and a narrow, decisive chin. Two steel rings rode the outer ridges of his right ear. He slopped around in big T-shirts and oversized jeans, alternately grimacing and grinning at the music earphoned into his head from an improbably tiny device, an iPod or an MP3 player. Mark was devoted to a strange cross section of contemporary music: Wilco, the Magnetic Fields, the White Stripes, the Strokes, Yo La Tengo, Spiritualized, and the Shins, but also Bruce Springsteen, Jimmy LaFave, and Eminem, whom he seemed to appreciate in an ironic spirit. His “pin-up girl,” he had informed his uncle in an e-mail, was Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

In the past sixteen months, Mark had e-mailed his uncle four times, not so briefly as to conceal a tone Tim found refreshing for being sidelong, sweet, and free of rhetorical overkill. Mark’s first and longest e-mail used the excuse of a request for advice, Tim thought, as a way to open communications between them.

From: munderhill697@aol.com

To: tunderhill@nyc.rr.com

Sent: Sunday, February 3, 2002 4:06 PM

Subject: speak, o wise one

hi de ho

this is your nephew mark in case u couldn’t decipher the from line. so I was having this lil disagreement with my father, and I wanted 2 ask your advice. after all u managed 2 get out of this burg & travel around & u write books & u live in nyc & all that means u shd have a pretty open mind. I hope it does.

bcuz u & u alone will decide what i do next. my dad sez he will go along with u no matter what. I dunno maybe he doesn’t want 2 have 2 decide. (mom sez, quote, don’t ask me, I don’t want to hear abt it, unquote. that’s what mom sez.)

i turn 14 next month and 2 celebrate my bday I’d like 2 get a tongue piercing. 1 of my friends has a pierced tongue and he sez it isn’t 2 painful at all and its over in a jiff. I’d really like 2 do this. don’t u think 14 is the rite age 2 go out and do something dumb, provided u do think it is dumb to pierce your tongue, which I obviously do not? in a year or 2 I’ll take it out & go back 2 being boring & normal. or what d’you say, move up 2 a cool tat?

waiting 2 hear from the famous unk


From: tunderhill@nyc.rr.com

To: munderhill697@aol.com

Sent: Sunday, February 3, 2002 6:32 PM

Subject: Re: speak, o wise one

Dear Mark,

First of all, it is wonderful to hear from you! Let’s do this more often. I like the idea of our being in touch.

I’ve been thinking about your question. To begin with, I’m flattered that you thought to ask my opinion on such a personal matter. I’m also flattered that your father placed the decision in my hands, but I suppose he really did not want to think about his son having his tongue pierced! If I had a son, I wouldn’t want to think about it, either.

bcuz, as u wld say, the idea of tongue piercings makes me feel a bit queasy. I like your earrings and I think they look good on you, but whenever I see some young person with a metal ball riding on top of his/her tongue, I begin to fret about the discomfort of such an arrangement. Doesn’t it complicate the whole eating business? I almost hate to admit this to you, but to me tongue piercings really do seem like weird self-mutilation. So you are far ahead of me in this regard.

This is not the answer you were expecting, I’m sure. I’m sorry to stand in the way of you getting what you want, but you asked and I had to answer you truthfully. I’d rather think of you without a metal ball in your mouth than with one. Sorry, kiddo, but I love you anyhow.

Is there anything special you’d like me to get for your birthday? Maybe I can make up for being so boring and middle-class.

Uncle Tim

The next day two messages from his family turned up in his Inbox.

From: munderhill697@aol.com

To: tunderhill@nyc.rr.com

Sent: Monday, February 4, 2002 7:32 AM

Subject: Re: speak, o wise one

TYim, this is nme Philip using Mark’s computyer. Hje showed me what you wrote him. I hadf the feeling you’d do the right thing for once. So, well, thanks. IO hate that crap too.

From: munderhill697@aol.com

To: tunderhill@nyc.rr.com

Sent: Monday, February 4, 2002 5:31 PM

Subject: Re: speak, o wise one

>Is there anything special you’d might like me to get for your birthday? now that you mention it, yep. ordnance. :)


For once, as his brother would put it, Tim was grateful for the Internet’s assumption that its users were incapable of perceiving a joke unaccompanied by a nudge in the ribs. Philip’s error-riddled message contained a different kind of reassurance—that of its having been sent at all.

During Pop’s life, the brothers had come together—meaning that Tim flew to Millhaven from New York—once or twice a year; in the five years since his death, they had scarcely spoken. Pop had come to New York once, as a widower of two years in his late seventies, saying that he wanted to see what all the fuss was about, and he had stayed in Tim’s loft at 55 Grand Street, which he had found awkward and discomfiting. His knees made the trek up and down three flights of stairs difficult, and Tim had overheard him complain to dear Michael Poole, who lived one floor up with the amazing and equally dear Maggie Lah, that he had imagined his son was at least rich enough to put in an elevator. (“I used to run an elevator, you know,” he told Michael. “At the famous St. Alwyn Hotel, right there in Pigtown. All the big musicians stayed there, niggers included.”) The next day, at an informal little get-together Tim put together with Maggie Lah, Michael Poole, and Vinh Tran, who with Maggie owned and operated Saigon, the Vietnamese restaurant on the ground floor of 55 Grand Street, Pop turned to Michael and said, “You know something, Doctor? As far as I’m concerned, the whole world can blow up right soon’s I die, and I wouldn’t give a damn. Why should I?”

“Doesn’t Tim’s brother have a son?” Michael asked. “Don’t you care what happens to your grandchild?”

“Not a hell of a lot.”

“You a tough ol’ coot, aren’t you?” Maggie said.

Pop grinned at her. Vodka had loosened him up to the point where he supposed this stunning Chinese woman could see through the cobwebby disguise of old age to the seductive rascal he was at heart. “I’m glad someone down here in New York City is smart enough to understand me,” he said.

Tim realized he had read through three pages of the new George Pelecanos novel without registering anything more than individual words. He looked up the aisle to discover that the flight attendants handing out the wrapped lunches were only two rows in front of him. On Midwest Air, a one-class airline noted for its wide seats and attentive service, the approach of the in-flight meal could still arouse some interest.

A blond woman with a Smithsonian-quality Millhaven accent handed him a wrapped chicken Caesar salad, more than acceptable by airline standards, and a minute later her twin sister filled his Midwest Air wine glass a quarter of an inch above the line with a decent cabernet, and when he had taken a sip and let it slide down his throat, it came to Tim Underhill that for the past twenty minutes, when he was supposed to be enjoying George Pelecanos as a kind of palate cleanser before making notes for his new and highly uncharacteristic project, he had been engaged in the fruitless task of obsessing about his brother.

If he actually did intend to accomplish any work during this trip, which in spite of everything he hoped he might, he was going to have to stop brooding about his brother and dedicate at least some of his attention to a surprisingly little known figure in American life, Dr. Herman Mudgett, a.k.a. H. H. Holmes. Probably the country’s first serial killer and undoubtedly one of its most prolific, Mudgett had adopted the surname of a famous fictional detective and constructed in Chicago a monstrous murder palace in the form of a hotel just in time to siphon off young women in town to attend the 1893 Columbian Exposition. In his vast hotel, he killed almost every woman who became involved with him to a degree greater than serving him breakfast in a local restaurant or selling him collars and cravats at the haberdashery. LD Bechtel, a young musician of Tim’s acquaintance, had suggested that they collaborate on a chamber opera about Holmes, and for the past two months this project had occupied a portion of his thoughts.

He knew when he had first begun to see his own access into it. The moment had been the result of various unrelated objects producing a small but vital electrical pulse when accidentally joined together. He had gone out to loaf through the St. Mark’s Bookshop and pick up a cup of coffee at Starbucks, and the first element of his inspiration had been an odd slogan stenciled atop a high, rounded Spring Street gutter passed on his eastward trek. The stencil had just been applied, and the ink glistened. It consisted of four words, all lowercase: lost boy lost girl. Downtown indie-rock bands sometimes advertised themselves by stenciling their names on sidewalks, and Tim had known of a couple of small presses that did the same with titles of books they did not have the money otherwise to promote. He supposed that somewhere, someone had done it with a movie title. Whatever it was, he liked the phrase and hoped he would remember to notice where it might crop up again.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Lost Boy Lost Girl 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 44 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I absolutely LOVED this book. I could not put it down. Straub spins a good tale and keeps the pages turning. The characters within the novel become more complex and real with every page. The teens portrayed in the book are on the money as far as your everyday teens are today. They are not children, but young adults. Each character of the book was shown on all sides to include their self they are to the world, the self they are to their families, and the self they are when alone. The characters seem real. The strained relationships between the Underhill relatives are believeable, and at the end of the book you're left hoping that there is something better waiting for the family after all they have been through. This book won't keep you up at night scared witless, but it will chill you to the bone. I highly recommend this book to anyone who likes a suspenseful story. Furthermore, I cannot wait to read Straub's 'In the Night Room' which will continue Tim Underhill's story!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Read until the wee hours.
thioviolight on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is the first novel I've read of Straub's, and a wonderful introduction to him! I actually got this because of Gaiman's blurb, but I was delighted to discover that Straub's writing suits my taste. Quick-paced, intriguing and a very good read!
ladyofunicorns on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I was very disappointed in this book. Usually Straub's writing is not like this. It was mediocre. I like some of his other books so that is why I picked this one up. It wasn't that scary. Not much of it to like. Definitely not going to keep.
NKSCF on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Lost Boy, Lost Girl offered a very slow start, even with the promised suicide of Timothy Underhill's sister-in-law and the disappearance of his nephew following his obsession with a house that has many ties to his family. I learned a little late that Tim has been in several other works of Straub's, but the only other novel of his that I've read is Ghost Story, so this is my introduction to him and it is well done.Like I said before it has a slow start, but after it begins to delve into why Mark--the nephew--disappeared and exactly how his mother and he are related to the problems experienced by the neighborhood they used to live in. Not as Ghost Story, but it's an unfair comparison, so this book is still good enough to stand by itself.
DChurch71 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I picked up this book just from the amazing reviews all over the internet, and also having Stephen King's blurb that says "Peter Straub's best work" really enticed me to pick this book up. The book is well written, but did not grab me as a reader and make me want to keep reading to see what happens next. While I thought the story had potential to be very good and interesting I felt let down. There was no real build up and over all it was a snooze in some parts. I enjoyed the characters; if story had more excitement to it I would have rated it higher. Definitely not Straubs best work, kind of mundane and boring overall. When I made it to the end I was left feeling nothing about the characters or the book, no wow factor.
ct.bergeron on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Nancy Underhill commits suicide for no apparent reason. A week later, her son 15 years old Mark - Vanishes. The boy's uncle, novelist Timothy Underhill searches his hometown of Millhaven for clues taht might help unravel this horrible dual mystery. He soon learns that a pedophilic murderer is on the loose in the vicinty, and that shortly before Nancy's suicide, Mark had become obsessed with an abandonned house where he imagined the killer might have taken refuge. No mere empty building, the house whispers from attic to basement with the echoes of a long hidden true-life horror story, and Tim Underhill comes to fear that in investigating it's unspeakable history, Mar stumbled accross its last and gruesome secret: a ghostly lost girl who may have coaxed the needy, suggestible boy into the mysterious domain.
davidabrams on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Peter Straub can scare readers with just a whisper. Other horror writers might give us books which scream blood, gore and guts, but Straub (Ghost Story, Koko, The Throat) puts ice in our veins with a soft, barely-audible "boo!" To badly paraphrase Carl Sandburg, Straub creeps up on little cat's feet and puts his icy paws on the back of our neck when we least expect it. In his latest novel, lost boy lost girl, he saturates his typically literate prose with an ominous buzz that crescendos right up until the last nerve-shattering sentence. In lost boy lost girl, novelist Tim Underhill (who also appears in Koko and The Throat) returns to his hometown of Millhaven, Illinois when his sister-in-law commits suicide. The death is shocking, especially to Tim's brother Philip and nephew Mark. It was "a death like a slap in the face," the book's first sentence informs us. The family's grief is only made worse when Mark mysteriously disappears a week later. Based in part on a couple of cryptic e-mails Mark had sent him, Tim starts to think there's something more to his nephew's disappearance than the police department's suspicion that it's the work of the local Sherman Park Killer who has been snatching local teenage boys off the street. Tim returns to Millhaven and begins to investigate the string of deaths and as he gets closer to the truth, he discovers it most likely can be found in the creepy house which has sat abandoned in Mark's neighborhood for years. As we'd expect from the man who gave us the ultimate Ghost Story, lost boy lost girl eventually turns into another haunted-house masterpiece. The residence at 3323 North Michigan Street becomes a living, breathing, pulsating character in its own right, complete with hidden staircases, sliding panels and poltergeists that move objects from room to room. Straub is an elegant writer¿on the opposite end of the horror spectrum from his chum Stephen King, the Royal Scribe of Sticky Gore. From Julia onward, Straub has penned his stories in a tradition established by people like Hawthorne, James and Saki. Like his literary ancestors, he knows how to scare readers psychologically, rather than with an amplified, Hollywood-ized barrage of "gotcha!" cheap thrills. The result is complex writing which is placid on its surface, but underneath teems with the squirming nasties of the id. Like the dust-moted rooms of the house, Straub's writing is quiet and intense, choosing not to blare off the page in show-offy fashion (starting with the unobtrusive, e.e. cummings-like title). Instead, we take our horror in small doses, unexpected scenes which can prickle the neck-hairs with a single, well-placed word. For instance, while out skateboarding one day, Mark comes across a dark, hulking figure we assume is the Sherman Park Killer and the sight fills him (and us) with icy dread: A thick-bodied man facing the other direction stood silhouetted against the dead sky at the top of Michigan Street¿.The sense of wrongness flowed from this man, Mark understood¿this figure with his back turned. Mark took in the unkempt black hair curling past his collar, his wide back covered by a black coat that fell like a sheet of iron to the backs of his knees. Willful, powerful wrongness came off of him like steam. You could spend hours deconstructing a paragraph like that to determine how Straub does it, how he goes about the business of icy cat's paws with words like "unkempt," "curling," and "steam." There are plenty of other instances where the author works his black magic on the reader: for instance, a ghost's footsteps "chimed like brush strokes." As Mark sits in the not-empty-after-all house, those whispery footfalls were like "hearing someone stepping down a passage within his own head." And, earlier, when Mark and his friend Jimbo first entered the house, he'd looked for footprints in the thick dust carpeting the floors. "He saw only tracings, loops and swirls like writing in an unknown alphabet inscribed with the li
bcquinnsmom on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
First off I will tell you that this is definitely a chiller. It is also a novel that you will not want to put down. Second...if you're looking for an ordinary horror story, you're not going to get it here. It is a mystery with added components: ghosts, haunted houses, parallel universes. Not your average horror novel and if that's what you're looking for do not read this book. You'll be disappointed.A great device used by the author in this story is the foreshadowing...certain things that Straub tells us through the voice of the main character here, writer Tim Underhill who is a recurring character in a few of Straub's books. First off, when the story begins Tim has agreed to collaborate on the writing of a libretto for a chamber opera based on Dr. Herman Mudgett, also known as HH Holmes (recently profiled in Larsen's The Devil in the White City), the notorious serial killer. Without giving away any of the surprises in lost boy lost girl, Underhill's nephew disappears and is assumed dead by the hands of a pedophile-killer who preys on young boys. Granted, Holmes/Mudgett's victims were women, but both sets of crimes involved a house...which eventually yielded up their clues to the grisly killings. Second, Underhill notices a strange slogan which he takes for an ad "lost boy lost girl" on a New York sidewalk which he cannot find later when he goes back to look for it. Third, while visiting his brother at the time of his sister-in-law's funeral, Underhill looks out his hotel window and watches as a strange black car run down a man on the street, an obvious murder. However, while he's wondering if anyone else noticed it or is going to do something about it, a group of people who turn out to be a movie crew descend on the spot of the "accident." Therefore, we have a warning that things may not be what they seem. There are other items that a careful reading will bring out, but I've already given away too much. Okay. So forewarned is forearmed. As the story opens Tim Underhill's sister-in-law has died, a victim of suicide. Tim goes to his hometown of Millhaven to attend the funeral with his brother and nephew, Mark. A few days later after Tim has returned to New York, he gets a call from his brother wondering if Mark is there with Tim. Tim goes back to Millhaven to help his brother try to find the answer to what happened to Mark. Told NOT in chronological order (this may confuse some readers but believe me, it's better this way) and through the use of alternating voices, the story that unfolds is creepy and keeps you turning pages. My advice to the reader: you don't need to believe. Just have fun with a very well-written novel. I do believe this may be the best Straub has yet offered.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I couldn't put it down! Besides the fact that it was a great story by a great writer, it was fun to read for me as I live in Milwaukee, Wisconsin where the writer is from so he used a lot of the same landmarks and street names that I am familiar with! This has to be read!
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