By Gilbert Cruz
Updated October 22, 2004 at 04:00 AM EDT

Following last year’s haunted house/serial killer thriller lost boy, lost girl, Peter Straub picks up again with semi-regular writer protagonist Tim Underhill, who glimpses the spirit of his deceased sister shortly before his Microsoft Outlook in-box is flooded with messages from the dead. As if that weren’t enough, a character from his novel-in-progress crosses over into the real world. Underhill has little trouble accepting this crush of outlandish occurrences, but readers might, especially when Straub throws in an avenging angel and an evil Dark Man while philosophizing about authorial responsibility to one’s characters. The point at which In the Night Room loses it: a seven-page e-mail from a spirit guide that painfully approximates instant-message-speak. Yes, it’s the 21st century, but doesn’t anybody write bloody messages on walls anymore?