In the small town of Milburn, New York, four aging men meet weekly for a round table of whiskey, cigars, and ghost stories. They call themselves the Chowder Society, but it seems someone or something else calls them playthings.
An outside force is playing them like puppets, bringing them horrendous nightmares of both the sleeping and waking variety. On a vote, the Chowder Society decides to call in a ringer from California, a nephew of one of the society's members and author of a well-known horror novel. Surely a man that could write like that must be an expert in such matters. It's his imagination that brings these dark forces into focus, however, gives them a face and gives them a name.
Together they realize that these forces aren't something new. They are very, very old and each one of them has already dealt with them previously in life, in one guise or another. And now their past has come back to them.
In Straub's fourth novel (his breakthrough work), I must confess that even this fan was a bit skeptical at first. It didn't seem to have that tone, that style, that trademarked genius that lets you know you are reading a Peter Straub novel. But as the pages wore on, it became clear that if this wasn't genius, it definitely contained seedlings of the genius that Straub would eventually become. Taking a handful of seemingly different tales and crafting them into a single novel is like a seamstress taking a thousand threads and weaving them into a blanket. You can't really appreciate the product until it is complete, but oh, how you love to watch them work.
The characters were, for the most part, rich and textured with a full and colorful back story which all came into play, and if I were hard pressed to nitpick, I would only be able to come up with the length. Weighing in at 483 pages, it may have been scaled down a bit, but once you get rolling, you probably won't even notice.