A couple reviews

I read a couple books over the holiday, but I don’t think they’re really worth separate reviews. I’ll take a few superficial swipes and move along.

Strangers by Dean Koontz appears to me to be a transitional work for the author. First published in 1986, it shows considerable improvement in character development and dialogue from much of his other early work.

It follows the adventures of a group of people, scattered all over the country, who begin to have similar anxiety symptoms (but not identical symptoms—there are interesting variations and contradictions). Most of them are suffering nightmares. Some of them develop obsessions. The moon, in particular, becomes the focus of more than one.

Gradually, because of clues that offer hope of answers, they begin to discover one another and to congregate at the Tranquility Motel in Elko County, Nevada.

This is a huge book—almost 700 pages, and I think the size was a mistake. Although the characters were well-drawn and drew my sympathy, the big climax dragged on and on, for more than a hundred pages, and I found myself losing interest. I plugged on to the end, but I wonder if some readers didn’t give it up. It’s a question of pacing, and most any novelist could make the same mistake when working at unaccustomed length.

From a theological point of view, I found the book problematic. To risk a spoiler, the Big Solution involves extraterrestrials. Koontz goes to great lengths to reassure Christian readers that the existence of life on other planets in no way threatens orthodox doctrine. But he spoils that (for me) by presenting the new knowledge from space as something that will unite all faiths—which, as anybody with any religious insight knows, means throwing out doctrine and wallowing in feelings.

So all in all, I don’t recommend Strangers.

Ridley Pearson’s Killer Weekend is the first book of a new series, starring Walt Fleming the “fictional” (I’ll explain the quotation marks below) sheriff of Blaine County, Idaho, home of Sun Valley and Ketchum. Sheriff Fleming is involved, along with the FBI and private security, in protecting the life of a female New York Attorney General who is about to announce her candidacy for the presidency at a conference in Sun Valley. Although theoretically the junior partner in the operation, Fleming is an old friend of the AG, who wants him to take the lead. And (as is not surprising) it turns out he’s far more competent than anyone guesses. And he needs to be, because an assassin is after her, one who has an incredibly devious and innovative plan.

Politics come into it, and although Ridley doesn’t lay it on thick, the slant is liberal. Big government is good. Big business is bad. Perhaps Pearson’s looking for a movie deal. Those elements will certainly help his chances in Hollywood.

An intriguing aspect is Pearson’s own statement, in the Acknowledgements, that the character of Walt Fleming is based on the actual, real-life Blaine County sheriff, whose name is “Walt Femling” (which I take to be a misspelling of Walt Fleming). The real Walt Fleming, Pearson informs us, has a father named Jerry and a wife named Jenny. The fictional Walt has a father named Jerry (who was abusive, and from whom he is estranged), and an ex-wife named Jenny.

It’s common for authors to base characters on real people they know, but it’s very rare to paint the portrait in such high resolution. Usually you change the name, and just to be safe you combine the traits of several people you’ve met or thought of, just so nobody feels as if their lives have been co-opted. I find it hard to imagine an author suggesting, or a friend accepting, an arrangement like this. Or vice versa.

Not that I’m judging. It’s just very weird, and rare. I can only assume Pearson and Fleming are very good friends.

Final judgment: A good, not great, book. Worth buying in paperback.

3 thoughts on “A couple reviews”

  1. Lars, you’ve read many suspense novels/thrillers published in the past 20 years. Sometime blog (rather than just comment in response to my email) about five books that you personally like the most. I’ve read enough that you have written to have a pretty good sense of what your tastes are. Such a list would be neat to have.

  2. I thought this comment from Koontz might be interesting to people. [From Amazon]

    “I don’t use outlines at all. I stopped using outlines with a book called STRANGERS many years ago. Interestingly, that was my first hard cover bestseller. I operate only with a hook, an idea, a premise. Call it what you will. And from that point, the story begins and I don’t have much of an idea of where it is going. The characters are more crucial to me than the plot. If the characters interest me in the first couple of chapters, then the plot is going to take care of itself because the characters will drive it places I never saw it coming.” – Koontz

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.