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Book Review: Mystery by Peter Straub

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With Mystery, Peter Straub, master of the horror story, tells a tale of greed, social climbing, and murder. Unfortunate adolescent Tom Pasmore gets run down in the streets of the fictitious Caribbean island of Mill Walk. Plastered to the grille of a car, Tom dies, but he gets a second chance, because he has mysteries to solve.

These mysteries involve the elite of Mill Walk, the Redwing family and Tom’s grandfather Glendenning Shaw. Together the elite control everything on the island – finances, land, police, and people. They see themselves as above the law. Their children go to private schools, and spend their summers in Eagle Lake, Wisconsin. Even though Tom belongs to the elite by birth, they do not accept him. Tom has not been quite right since the accident; he likes to read and be alone. Plus there exist family secrets tainting Tom’s lineage that everyone seems to know except for Tom.

Despite Tom’s apparent isolation, Tom finds some friends. Lamont von Heilitz and Sarah Spence embrace his secrets and oddities. The families have decided Sarah will marry Buddy, future patriarch of the Redwing family holdings, but she loves Tom. Together Sarah and Tom encounter and experiment with young love, and adolescent rebellion. Lamont von Heilitz, the Shadow, solver of mysteries, is shunned by much of the island. He is an internationally famous detective with uncanny powers of deduction. Members of the island elite also view him as not quite right. Together they seek to solve a pair of 20-year old murders.

Mystery is book two of the Blue Rose Trilogy. On the surface, it can be read as a stand-alone book, a very good murder mystery spanning three generations of the Upshaw family. It was first published 20 years ago. Anchor Books has rereleased it and the other two parts of the trilogy. Koko was rereleased in July 2009, Mystery in January 2010, and The Throat will be rereleased in August 2010.

Both Koko and Mystery can be read in any order, and the stories have little overlap, but overlap does exist if you watch for it. The third book, The Throat, ties everything together and must be read last. Separately, the first two books have a subtle paranormal feel. In Mystery, Tom has a sixth sense that leads him to clues. Koko’s protagonist has a pervading veil of evil, and Straub alludes to a battle of good and evil on a higher plain. Koko has a much more psychological component and a much darker message involving Vietnam, religion, pain and death.

Read all three books and you realize the depth and intricacy of the author’s story. Indeed, the trilogy weaves a complex tale of the macabre on many different levels. They incorporate a full range of emotions, fears, and desires. Read Mystery by itself and you will enjoy a good murder mystery. Read all three for a really complex treat.

For those of you not familiar with Peter Straub, he is a notable horror writer. He won two Bram Stoker awards for his novels Lost Boy Lost Girl and In the Night Room. He has written two related horror stories with Stephen King – The Talisman and Black House. His novel Ghost Story was made into a motion picture. He released his most recent novel, A Dark Matter, this past month.

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About Bruce G. Smith

I'm a part time writer with a few articles published here and there. In addition to writing, I'm into nature and architectural photography.