Which brings us to 1993's The Throat, the final volume in the extremely loose trilogy that also encompasses 1988's Koko and 1990's Mystery. Ostensibly, one can say that The Throat is about the hero of Koko (Tim Underhill, only really the semi-hero in that novel) and the hero of Mystery (Tom Pasmore, at once Underhill's literary alter ego and a real person) teaming up to solve the Blue Rose murders that shook up the town of Millhaven some forty years earlier, murders that ran through the background of both Koko and Mystery. It is, of course, about so much more than that, as Straub's work tends to be. It's also about identity and memory (as was Koko), and how the past informs the present (as was Mystery). And, in a strange way, it's also about letting go of the past, at least for Underhill himself once he discovers he has a shocking childhood connection to the killer. (The final three pages of the novel are a stunning description of acceptance and compassion.)
It's a hefty book, too. My Signet paperback version is 700 pages long, with a rather miniscule typeface, and yet I found myself speeding through the pages without my editor brain finding a single scene I would have cut in order to shorten it. Straub's work is so densely and rewardingly layered that every detail, every line of dialogue, transforms into an important aspect of the story -- a clue to the mystery's solution, and yet also a clue to Underhill's understanding of a world where someone like the Blue Rose killer can exist. There are even shades of Conrad's Heart of Darkness to be found in the story of Franklin Bachelor's exploits in Vietnam.
I'm told that upon its publication The Throat was not the commercial success they hoped it would be. I don't know if that's true or not, but I will say that if it is, it's a damn shame. The Throat is a masterpiece, one of the finest mystery/suspense novels since Thomas Harris' Red Dragon, and in my opinion deserves the same size audience. The moment I closed the book I called mssrcrankypants to discuss it and demand he send me the chapter he wrote on The Throat for his grad school thesis. I guess it speaks highly of the novel that after 700 dense pages, I want to read even more about it in the form of an academic paper!
Straub's novels have yet to disappoint me. But even more than being a master craftsman who tells compelling stories, his legacy, at least for me and for others in my trade, is that each novel of his I read makes me want to be that much better of a writer.
Up next in the Straubathon will be 1996's The Hellfire Club. (As a point of fun trivia, the first time I met Peter Straub was at the Bram Stoker Awards in New York City in the mid-1990s, when he read a bit from Hellfire at the Stoker reading series we then called Villa Diodati. It feels like I'm catching up to myself!)