(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

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At the unveiling of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., four surviving members of an army platoon are reunited. Although their current lives vastly differ in social station and degree of success, they still cannot shake the memories of the hell they endured together in Southeast Asia. Amid the backslapping and emotional purging they all experience, there is one sinister reminder of the past that raises its ugly head.

They suspect that a fifth member of their combat unit--a crime novelist named Tim Underhill--is committing a series of murders, always leaving at the scene a playing card with the word “Koko” scrawled across it. Only these four men know that “Koko” cards were the signature of their platoon. Three of the men leave the United States and head overseas to Bangkok, where Underhill still lives. Unknown to them or to their one comrade who stays behind in New York, Underhill is headed stateside, hoping to track each of them down one by one, taking new victims along the way.

Although thrillers involving serial murderers are nothing new, KOKO may very well exceed all other efforts in the genre. Until now, Peter Straub has written mainly horror stories, a career choice that has brought him critical acclaim and financial success. KOKO is his first thriller/suspense novel, and it is a switch that should give the author a surge of popularity. Straub has combined his storytelling technique with a first-class style to deliver one of the smartest, most literate roller-coaster rides in years.

One note of warning: KOKO is not for the squeamish. It is a novel of powerful psychological and physical violence. (Straub co-wrote THE TALISMAN with his buddy Stephen King and learned his lessons well.) The payoff for readers with a strong stomach, however, is an experience that one simply cannot escape until the very last page.