”What happened to the Millhaven,” asks a character approximately one third of the way through Peter Straub’s novel The Throat, ”where a guy could go out for a beer an’ a bratwurst without stumbling over a severed head?” This may be the most cogent line in a preposterously muddled tale about goblins, child molesters, Vietnam atrocities, police corruption, gnosticism, doppelgangers, and a big, hairy Minotaur.
Once described in The New York Times as ”the thinking man’s Stephen King,” Straub appears to have let it go to his head, churning out a convoluted novel of encyclopedic length. Even when they’re not seeing poltergeists, his characters talk like Ph.D. candidates on LSD.
The last in a trilogy that began with Koko and continued with Mystery, The Throat combines elements of both earlier novels. The plot runs roughly as follows: Writer Tim Underhill is summoned back to Millhaven, the city of his youth and the scene of his best-seller The Divided Man. Somebody has killed the wife of an old football rival and Vietnam War pal of his. Maybe the same somebody, in fact, who committed the city’s infamous ”Blue Rose” murders supposedly solved in Underhill’s book. Except that somebody supposedly committed suicide 40 years ago.
To solve the crime, Underhill joins forces with a reclusive ”Real-Life Sherlock Holmes” who deduces, ”We have among us two utterly ruthless serial killers….” One of them, ”the Meat Man,” eventually confesses to just about every murder in Millhaven history. But our literary sleuths suspect that he’s only bragging. Books within books, stories within stories. It’s all terribly ingenious, terribly self-indulgent, and transcendentally silly. C