Book Review : Peter Straub - The Throat (1993)
Peter Straub's Blue Rose Trilogy isn't really a trilogy until you get to its final volume The Throat. The first novel Koko is a tense and multifaceted thriller set in post-Vietnam War America that is quite enjoyable on its own and its aptly named sequel Mystery was...well...a paunchy and intellectual mystery set twenty something years before the events of Koko. Both novels have seemingly nothing to do with one another. Not until you read The Throat that is. Rest assured, the final installment of the Blue Rose Trilogy doesn't only tie up the loose ends scattered over Koko and Mystery. The Throat introduces a setting that is quite more compelling and original than its predecessors and the REAL mystery of the Blue Rose murders. Mild spoilers ahead.
The first thing you'll notice about The Throat is that it's narrated in the first person by Tim Underhill, the once reclusive writer the protagonist of Koko spend half the novel looking for. Underhill also claims that Mystery is a fictionalization of real events written by Straub and him, which introduces a metafictional variable that we'll discuss later. In The Throat, Tim Underhill receives a phone call from his old friend John Ransom telling him there is a Blue Rose killer copycat on the loose in Millhaven. Ransom was, of course, right but he has barely scratched the surface of the evil lurking at the heart of this quiet Illinois town. Underhill will enlist his old friend Tom Pasmore (the fictional, not the metafictional one) to investigate a case that will lead them far into the past of Millhaven.
The Throat, like many mysteries which came before and after it, discusses themes of memory and trauma. What makes it different than other mystery novels is that Peter Straub juxtaposes Tim Underhill's personal trauma suffered during Vietnam war to Millhaven's deep-rooted, collective haunting. Still not following how it makes The Throat special or interesting? I don't blame you, reading at least Koko is mandatory to have the complete picture here. Conventional tropes here would've lead Tim Underhill to taking a war that never stopped in his mind to the streets of Millhaven using the combat skills he picked up in the military, but he's depicted here as a non-violent intellectual. The Throat subverts the whole war/soldiers relationship common to most novels and makes it come off as an aberration of human nature which only makes victims. And I thought that was really cool.
So, how do Koko, Mystery and The Throat work together? Great, I guess. They're three rather straightforward, if a little thematically unambitious, mysteries. There isn't a whole lot to say about them other than they're all intricate, engaging and a little paunchy around the middle. Koko and The Throat could've existed independently of Mystery, but I get why Peter Straub released the books in the order he did. My 2017 Straubathon colleague Bob Pastorella wondered in his review of The Throat if it was meant to be a trilogy at all or if the two other volume stemmed from this one. I believe it's the latter and that the metafictional Mystery was an attempt to build Tom Pasmore as a mythical character one would write novels about. And it kind of works. Needless to say, Pasmore much more engaging in The Throat than he is in Mystery, but every road leads to the Blue Rose trilogy's final volume. Every idea stems from it, which leads me to believe it was planned to be a monstrous 1,000+ pages novel at the beginning and that it was broken into three parts.
What do I think of Peter Straub now that I've read the Blue Rose trilogy? It's a good question. The portrait is still unclear to me. He's undoubtedly gifted. He's an above average storyteller, but I find these books a little mainstream-ish? The trilogy came later into Straub's career and now that we've read it, the 2017 Straubathon is heading towards the novels that made him famous and revered. Our next stop will be Floating Dragon in July, a book that was published close to a decade before The Throat. The Blue Rose Trilogy was quite enjoyable by any means, but maybe it's not the best entry point for budding Peter Straub fans as it doesn't quite show what makes him different and unique than writers like, Stieg Larsson for example. Let's call it a Straub 201 class, shall we?