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November 26th, 2006

Straubathon: Koko [Nov. 26th, 2006|03:20 pm]
International Bon Vivant and Raconteur
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I can see why Laird Barron kept insisting I read this book! Peter Straub's 1988 novel Koko marks a radical departure from his earlier works. There's no supernatural element to be found here, only the horror of war, in this case Vietnam, and what it can do to minds already on the verge of snapping.

It's one of those novels I wish I'd read when it came out, when the Vietnam war was still a somewhat recent memory, instead of now, when it's hard not to look for parallels with the war in Iraq and the psycho soldiers we've heard about in the news recently. But I wouldn't have been able to fully understand it then, either. Koko is a furiously adult novel, and there's no way my 19-year-old self could have appreciated it as much as my 37-year-old self does.

Koko focuses on Michael Poole, a veteran and pediatrician, as he and his 'Nam friends try to figure out who "Koko" is and why he's killing people with a connection to something terrible they did in country, but it's the presence of Timothy Underhill that hangs over the pages like a storm cloud. Underhill is a character who I know will reappear and come more to the forefront in later Straub novels like The Throat and lost boy, lost girl, and I was happy to finally meet him. He wasn't at all what I was expecting, and it's to Straub's credit that he manages to make you wonder for a long time if Underhill himself might turn out to be Koko.

Koko is one of the best mystery-thrillers I've ever read, the way Straub's Ghost Story is one of the best horror novels. Straub continues to amaze me. I'd like to teleport inside his brain and absorb all his knowledge and ability.

Because his writing isn't just transporting, it's inspiring. Finishing Koko, I felt a strong desire to return to my own mystery-thriller The Eighth Circle, which I back-burnered a while ago because it bore some superficial resemblances to Matthew Pearl's The Dante Club that spooked me. Enough time has passed, I think, that it would be possible to publish The Eighth Circle without it being considered a ripoff or cash-in. (Though now I have another mystery novel idea that's itching at me quite strongly, too. Gah! I wish I was one of those writers who could write several novels simultaneously. Maybe one day I'll get the hang of it.)

But enough about me. Go read Koko. You'll make Laird very happy.
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