Our commenter Aitchmark recommended Dean Koontz’ Odd Thomas books to me. I dragged my feet, because I’d read one Koontz and wasn’t terribly impressed. I didn’t think he used language very skillfully.
But I picked up Brother Odd last week, and frankly it turned my world upside down and gave it a good shake.
I still don’t think Koontz is a very good wordsmith. Time and again it seemed to me he was aiming for effects he wasn’t achieving.
But in Odd Thomas he has created a character who won my heart, and I’ll bet he’ll win yours too. You should not pick up this one first, though, but go back to the earlier books in the series to get the tragedies in sequence, because it does make a difference.
Odd Thomas (Odd is his first name. He explains it as a typo on his birth certificate, where it was supposed to say, “Todd.” Koontz doesn’t seem to be aware that Odd is an uncommon but not unknown Norwegian name, a variant of “Odin”) is a young man who makes his living as a fry cook. He is totally unremarkable (disregarding the pain he has suffered in his life) except for his unusual gift. Like the kid in The Sixth Sense and that girl on the TV show, he sees dead people.
But it’s harder for him than it is for them, because the dead don’t speak to him. The ghosts who linger in this world, in these stories, are mute. They are usually the victims of murder, and it’s Odd’s task to figure out their unspoken secrets and give them rest.
This all sounds very New Age, but it’s anything but that. Odd is a devout, practicing Roman Catholic.
In Brother Odd, in fact, he has left his California home and entered a Colorado monastery, overwhelmed by the personal losses he experienced in earlier adventures. It’s fairly quiet there for him—the only resident ghost is a monk who hanged himself in the bell tower and appears only occasionally.
But it doesn’t stay quiet. Besides ghosts, Odd is able to see spirits he calls “bodachs,” dark, shadowy figures that always gather in advance of acts of massive death and violence.
At the beginning of the story, Odd sees three of them. And they head straight for the monastery’s associated school, where the nuns care for retarded and handicapped children.
In his efforts to prevent whatever unknown horror is threatening the children, Odd must uncover the secrets of the monastery residents.
But these aren’t the kind of secrets you expect in a contemporary thriller. The monks and nuns are not practicing secret sexual rituals, or abusing the children, or plotting the overthrow of democracy. They are, by and large, sweet souls, the kind of people you can believe have given their lives in service to God and their fellow man. (I have to give Koontz tremendous props for these characterizations. As C.S. Lewis noted [I think] in The Four Loves, good characters are “the very devil” for an author.)
No, the secrets are deeper than that, and the evil resides in a place Dan Brown would have never imagined.
Koontz got completely past my reservations about his style, and grabbed me with the characters and the story. I don’t often cry over a book, but Brother Odd got to me.
Highly recommended. I’ve got to read the earlier installments, Odd Thomas and Forever Odd.