Chapter three of King's epic alternate-world saga (1988, 1989) finds Roland the Gunslinger and his sidekicks continuing their quest for the Dark Tower--and the Maine master keyboarding some of his least restrained writing in years, great sagging storm clouds of padded prose that only occasionally thunder or brighten with lightning inspiration. The storyline by now is so complex that King opens with a four-page "Argument" summing up past action and tracing ties between major characters. The Argument for volume four won't be much longer, since relatively little happens here: Roland trains Eddie Dean and Susannah Walker, previously brought by him from Manhattan to his blighted world, in the arts of gunslinging--soon used to slay a giant mechanical bear named Shardik; Jake, the boy whom Roland let die in volume one, reappears as a Gotham schoolkid who makes his way through a haunted house into Roland's world; the band of four encounter a town of old folks, then a wasted city where Jake is kidnapped by degenerates, then rescued; Roland and company take a ride toward the Dark Tower on a train operated by an insane computer enamored of riddles. In a note, King admits that "finding the doors to Roland's world has never been easy for me." The strain is evident, with the volume seemingly jerry-built on borrowings (the hoary haunted house; the mad computer, echoing Hal of 2001; the wasted city and its criminal denizens, shades of Escape from New York) and overblown character conflicts (can Eddie summon the courage to cross the swaying bridge?). Still, some of the action cooks up shivery suspense, and Roland's anticipated duel of riddles with the homicidal computer promises a swift start to the next volume. Hopefully it won't take any more slack interlude volumes for Roland to reach the Dark Tower. Meanwhile, though confirmed series fans might at least tolerate this chapter (and buy up its 1.5 million first printing--on-sale Dec. 2), the generic King fan will enjoy far more the upcoming Needful Things (p. 813).