Tag Archives: Dean Koontz

Frankenstein: Prodigal Son and City of Night, by Dean Koontz, Kevin J. Anderson and Ed Gorman

A few years back, as Dean Koontz explains in an introduction to the first book of this series, Frankenstein: Prodigal Son, he made a deal with the USA Network to write a contemporary television series based on the characters of the old Frankenstein book. One assumes that the network execs either misunderstood his script, or understood it all too well, since both parties agreed to go their own ways in the end, each party producing a Frankenstein after their own heart.

The conceit in this series of books is that, although Mary Shelley’s famous novel is based on fact, she got the ending wrong. The monster did not kill Dr. Frankenstein, nor did he die himself. Instead, endowed with extremely long life through being struck by lightning during his creation, he has lived on, mostly in hiding because of a facial injury, gradually learning to control his rage. At the start of Prodigal Son he is residing in a Tibetan monastery. He does not yet know that Dr. Frankenstein has survived the last two centuries as well, his life extended through a series of self-designed surgeries. When he does learn this, the monster leaves the monastery and travels to New Orleans, where Dr. Frankenstein now lives the life of a biotech millionaire and VIP, under a new name. Continue reading Frankenstein: Prodigal Son and City of Night, by Dean Koontz, Kevin J. Anderson and Ed Gorman

The Darkest Evening of the Year, by Dean Koontz

I feel the need to say something political on this last evening before the election.

But I can’t think of anything that hasn’t already been said. And since I know for a fact that our readers are a smart, erudite segment of the population, I’m pretty sure you’ve already made up your own minds.

So I’ll do a book review. It must be days since I’ve reviewed a Dean Koontz novel.

Koontz’ latest in paperback is The Darkest Evening of the Year. On a purely technical level I can make a lot of criticisms.

Since the death of his beloved Golden Retriever, Trixie, Koontz seems to be writing out his grief, with occasionally uneven results. The dogs in his books have gotten wiser and more mystical. In this book he cries havoc and lets slip the dogs of transcendence completely, coming close to caninolatry (if there is such a word. Of course there is! I just made it up!). That “Dog is God spelled backwards” palindrome that so impressed Annie Hall is almost (almost) at work here. Continue reading The Darkest Evening of the Year, by Dean Koontz

Dean Koontz’ full range

Tonight, another episode in my ongoing engagement with the works of Dean Koontz. Not a review, exactly, but an appreciation and evaluation.

I’m going through Koontz alphabetically, picking up his books left to right across the bookstore shelf. This results in some odd juxtapositions, such as when I read Night Chills (published 1976) immediately followed by One Door Away From Heaven (published 2001). Having made it more than half way through the corpus, I think I can say that those two books represent something like the full range of Koontz’ work—from the creppiest early stuff to the most sublime of the recent.

Night Chills is barely recognizable as a Koontz book, in the sense I’ve come to know them. It’s a pretty standard thriller with a cutting-edge (for the time) scientific premise. But the way Koontz handles the material seems to reveal an immature artist, unsure of himself and trying to emulate established writers.

Which is probably why there’s so much sex in the book, and why it’s so (relatively) explicit, and… frankly, creepy. Continue reading Dean Koontz’ full range

Koontz on stories

Today is Sissel Kyrkjebø’s birthday.

And no, I didn’t send her a present. She didn’t send me anything last year, and I do have some pride.

I’m currently reading Dean Koontz’ Mr. Murder, which I’m finding even more excruciatingly suspenseful than his usual stuff. Koontz has adopted the wise policy in recent books of making his heroes blue-collar workers, a tactic that’s both fresh and realistic, and I salute it. In this older book, though, he falls back on the conventional author’s timesaver of making the main character a fellow author (saves research). But it gives him the opportunity to make some dramatically appropriate comments on the idea of Story Itself. Here the hero, Martin Stillwater, talks about it with his wife:

He said, “You and I were passing the time with novels, so were some other people, not just to escape but because… because, at its best, fiction is medicine.”

“Medicine?”

“Life is so d*mned disorderly, things just happen, and there doesn’t seem any point to so much of what we go through. Sometimes it seems the world’s a madhouse. Storytelling condenses life, gives it order. Stories have beginnings, middles, ends. And when a story’s over, it meant something, by God, maybe not something complex, maybe what it had to say was simple, even naïve, but there was meaning. And that gives us hope, it’s a medicine.”

From the Corner of His Eye, by Dean Koontz

Be easy in your ceaseless care for me. I got my walk in tonight. It looks to be the only one I’ll get this week, but it’s something. The temperature was tolerable, if I bundled up, and enough sun filtered through the light clouds to give me a diaphanous shadow.

Tomorrow night it’s supposed to rain. In any case, I’ll be running to the airport to pick up Moloch and his wife, back from China.

Which means that it’s just possible, if I hear that traffic’s bad, that I’ll skip posting altogether.

Steel yourselves. I know you can survive it.

I promise I’m not going to review every Dean Koontz novel I read, as I go through them alphabetically.

But I’m going to review the really outstanding ones. And From the Corner of His Eye definitely qualifies.

I suppose it’s possible that Koontz could produce a better novel than this. I haven’t read them all yet. But at this point I can’t imagine a better one.

This is a big, sprawling book that covers a long period of time, kind of like those Victorian novels I’ve never read, by Thackeray and Trollope.

And it’s populated by a remarkable cast of quirky, fascinating characters worthy of Charles Dickens.

And it’s built on a Sci Fi/Supernatural premise, like… well, like a Dean Koontz book.

The blurb on the inside page of the paperback is misleading. It makes it sound as if this is the story of Bartholomew Lampion. Bartholomew is certainly a central character, but he’s a baby for half the book. The story is actually about a whole network of people, all bound together by the strange effects of a radio sermon called, “This Momentous Day.”

The story begins in January, 1965. First of all (though not first in the narrative), in Oregon, a narcissistic sociopath named Enoch Cain murders his beautiful, loving wife. The next day, in two places in California, two babies are born—a boy and a girl—in circumstances of extreme family tragedy. Nevertheless each child finds a loving home and shows early signs of being a prodigy.

But Enoch Cain is out there, and he has become aware that there’s a child who he believes is a danger to him. He grows obsessed with finding that child and killing him.

Cain is an interesting character. He’s evil and does horrible things that cause great pain to people the reader has come to care for. Nevertheless, Koontz treats him to a large degree as a comic figure (he explains his rationale for this through one of his characters in the course of the book). Cain thinks he’s a genius, a connoisseur, and God’s gift to women, but in fact he’s not particularly bright, likes only the things critics tell him to like, and most people who meet him find him rather creepy. He’s blissfully unaware of this. Also his suppressed conscience expresses itself forcefully in some painful and embarrassing physical reaction, every time he commits a murder.

As the plot works itself out, and all the characters come to know one another, we observe the working out of Koontz’ premise, that just as quantum physics and string theory tell us that every point in the universe is connected, so all people are connected, and all our actions have infinite consequences—and not only in our own universe.

I loved every page of this book. I don’t think I’ve ever read a novel this long (over 700 pages) before and wanted it to be longer. As the saying goes, I laughed; I cried.

There are strong Christian elements (along with some speculation which could serve as fodder for late night discussions).

From the Corner of His Eye gets my highest recommendation.

Update: Scratch tomorrow’s rain. We’re going to get snow.

If Nature is our Mother, our family is dysfunctional.

The Good Guy, by Dean Koontz

Sorry to do another Koontz review. But Koontz is who I’m reading just now, and the day hasn’t produced any other subject material—at least none that I noticed. If I were James Lileks, I could get a couple thousand words out of how I avoided eye contact with the guy trying to sell Strib subscriptions in the grocery store tonight.

Oh, I had my dialogue worked out. He’d say, “Interested in subscribing to the Star Tribune?”

And I’d be like, “No.”

And he’d say, “Why not?”

And I’d be like, “I can get my beliefs and politics insulted for free any time I like. Why should I pay the Strib to insult them?”

But in real life those exchanges never work out like you’ve scripted them, so I just rushed by, pretending he wasn’t there.

Anyway, to the book. The Good Guy begins with the hero, Timothy Carrier, a master mason, sitting alone in his favorite bar. A man takes a stool near him and starts a conversation as if he knows him. Assuming the man has confused him with someone else, Timothy plays along for a few minutes, just as a lark.

It stops being funny when the man hands him an envelope containing ten thousand dollars, along with a photograph of a woman he wants him to murder, and then rushes out.

Not only is Timothy not in the least interested in murdering anyone, but he finds the woman’s face extremely attractive.

So begins an odyssey in which Timothy locates the woman, a novelist named Linda Paquette, and goes on the run with her, fleeing a murderer who is a talented professional as well a total, narcissistic sociopath.

But there’s hope. Because Timothy isn’t just a good guy. He has considerable resources of his own, and the conspirators made a very big mistake when they stumbled over him.

The Good Guy is one of Koontz’ recent books, and he’s become as good at building a story as (we’re informed) Timothy is at laying bricks. Timothy is just the kind of guy the reader wants to be, and Linda just the kind of woman he’d like to fall in love with (or vice versa if the reader’s a woman. If I know anything about women. Which I don’t). I put the book down from time to time, because I had to sleep and work, but it was a struggle. The villain was interesting, frightening and believable, but Timothy and Linda caught my full sympathy and held it.

I’m kind of glad Koontz doesn’t do a lot of sequels. That means Timothy and Linda will probably live happily ever after, without running into any more ruthless serial killers. That’s kind of nice to think about.

The Door to December, by Dean Koontz

I’m becoming a fan of Dean Koontz, almost against my will. As I familiarize myself with his body of work, I’ve developed a theory about him, which I’ll share at the end of this incisive review.

The Door to December is one of Koontz’ earlier works, first published under a pseudonym. It exhibits the usual weaknesses you expect from early Koontz. And yet… I loved it.

As the story begins, Laura McCaffrey, a psychologist, is summoned by the police to a house where her ex-husband has been found horribly murdered, along with two other men. Her concern is not with her ex, but with her daughter Melanie, whom he kidnapped six years ago. Besides the bloody corpses in the house, beaten beyond recognition, a room is found containing a sensory deprivation chamber and an electro-shock aversion therapy chair. Of Melanie there is no sign at first, but the little girl is soon discovered wandering naked on a nearby street. She is physically unharmed, but appears to be autistic.

At the crime scene Laura meets police detective Dan Haldane, who immediately takes an interest in the attractive doctor and her vulnerable child. As they look at the evidence, it becomes clear that Melanie has been the subject of a heartless, long-term psychological experiment.

And the horror isn’t over, because whatever killed the men in the house is killing others connected with the project. And Melanie, in her rare lucid moments, expresses her certainty that when the Thing is done killing the experimenters, it will kill her too.

I found lots of things to complain about in the writing here. The dialogue in particular was clunky. There’s one scene where Det. Haldane has a long argument with his greatest enemy in the world, his police superior. At one point he starts explaining himself to the man, sharing his deepest fears and motivations. This is ridiculous. Men hate to bare their souls to their closest friends. They don’t voluntarily point out their own weak spots to people who are likely to use the information against them. I know why Koontz did it. It’s a temptation for an author—you need to insert some exposition, explaining why your character acts the way he does. You’ve got a passionate dialogue scene; your character’s emotions are up. It seems to be just the place to throw the exposition in. You willingly ignore the fact that your character is expositing to the wrong person.

It’s easy to do. I’ve been tempted to do it myself (and have probably succumbed). But it’s bush league, and it damages credibility. (I’m reading the more recent The Good Guy now, and Koontz’ craftsmanship seems to have improved a lot.)

In spite of my criticisms, I liked this book exceedingly. And I think I know why (here comes my theory). Koontz is different from the average thriller writer. The average thriller writer is interested in examining the Problem of Evil. That’s an important question, and well worth looking at.

But Koontz prefers to examine the Problem of Good. When you consider it, the problem of good is just as puzzling, and certainly as important, as the other problem. And there’s the added advantage that there’s a whole lot less being written on the subject.

From that point of view—the point of view of looking at why people do good things, why they love and sacrifice and care for one another—I found The Door to December very moving. The climax, in particular, surprised me completely (it would probably not surprise a more virtuous reader as much).

I won’t say I like Koontz as well as Andrew Klavan, even now. But I’m liking him better and better. And he has a lot more books out there for me to find and read.

Chistmas report, and The Husband by Koontz

Hope you had a good Christmas. I’ll be celebrating (if anything I do can properly be described by that word) with my family here on Saturday.

So how did I spend the holiday? Mostly shoveling snow, as best I recall. We got another couple inches on Christmas Eve night, and my renter and I cleared that out. Christmas Day snow was predicted to be light, but Mother Nature was in a giving mood, so we got a couple more inches on Christmas Day and overnight. My renter being at work today, I shoveled all that by myself. My neighbor, who generally does our shared driveway with his snowblower, continued his tradition of perfect timing by being out of town. (Traditions mean so much at Christmas, after all.)

But I found time to stretch out on the couch with a book too. (Actually I had little choice after all that snow shoveling.) I read Dean Koontz’ The Husband. Good book. I won’t make this reading report an actual review. I think most of you know (and I’m figuring out by now) what to expect of a Dean Koontz book. He appears to be improving as a writer with the years, from what I can tell, but I wouldn’t rate him as a great novelist. But I’ve discovered that he’s an author I can go to and pretty much count on for a good experience—even a moving experience. The Husband is about a man who’s a husband in two senses. He’s married to a woman he loves, and he also runs a lawn service (which makes him a “husbandman” in the traditional English parlance). He lives a conventional middle class life and is happy in it. So it makes no sense when he gets a call telling him the caller has kidnapped his wife, and wants two million dollars in ransom.

Great story. Not (I think) a typical Dean Koontz thriller in that the supernatural element is almost entirely absent. But the tension never lets up, and the morality is excellent. There’s also some insightful social commentary. Enjoyed it very much.

Book Review: Brother Odd, by Dean Koontz

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.