Review of Koko By Peter Straub

Fantasy Audiobooks - Koko by Peter StraubKoko
By Peter Straub; Read by James Woods
2 Cassettes – Approx. 3 hours [ABRIDGED]
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Published: November 1988 – Out Of Print
ISBN: 0671652397
Themes: Fantasy / Horror / Mystery / Vietnam / Serial Killer /

“Koko…” Only four men knew what it meant… Vietnam vets. One was a doctor. One was a lawyer. One was a working stiff. One was a writer. All were as different as men could be – yet all were bound eternally together by a single shattering secret.

A group of Vietnam vets flies back to Asia in search of a former member of their old unit, someone who they think may have become a serial killer, someone calling himself “Koko”. Koko’s motivation and identity are inextricably linked to their tour in ‘Nam, and specifically to one experience they all shared in a Vietnamese village. But in order to discover Koko’s true nature, a few of them may have to die.

Simon & Schuster Audio have used the same cool cover art from the paperback for this audiobook, which is great, but they’ve heavily abridged the novel, which isn’t. Thankfully, the story still works despite the abridgement, and the reader, James Woods, has the chops to become a full time narrator if that Hollywood thing doesn’t work out. Also added to the production is suitably accented music, which works well despite happening at seemingly random intervals. Peter Straub is really able to carve the words into your mind in such a way as to freak you right out of your skin. But it’s not just the words themselves; it’s the characters and the thoughts they have, and the motivations that drive them. It’s certainly a horror novel, but more in the tradition of Joseph Conrad’s Heart Of Darkness than Stephen King’s It. What’s really weird though is that Koko won the World Fantasy Award for best novel. Despite lacking any fantastic elements, Koko is more mystery than fantasy and more horror than fantasy. But don’t get me wrong, Koko deserved the award. It’s just that it is so far outside the boundaries of typical fantasy fiction that only a phrase like “speculative fiction” can capture it at all. Were the work not so impressive nobody would bother debating whether it was fantasy or not. It’s definitely worth the debate.

Posted by Jesse Willis

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