Tag Archives: Dean Koontz

‘The NIght Window,’ by Dean Koontz

Shadows had shrunk into the objects that cast them, waiting to emerge when the day finished transitioning from morning to afternoon.

Five dystopian thrillers and it’s done now. The Jane Hawk pentalogy by Dean Koontz has been a rewarding ride, and he ties it all up pretty neatly in The Night Window.

Jane Hawk is a former decorated FBI agent. Now she’s the FBI’s most wanted fugitive, not to mention the CIA, the NSA, and any other federal agency that has a free minute on its computers. Jane found out about the Arcadians, a stealthy group of self-described human elites who have a plan to enslave the whole world through nanotechnology mind control. The Arcadians, who largely control the government, killed Jane’s beloved husband, and now they want her. But it’s not enough for her to just disappear. She has a young son, Travis, and she knows the Arcadians are hunting him, to use him as a weapon against her. She has him hidden, but you can’t hide from these people forever. They have to be unmasked and stopped.

It’s a big order, but Jane is not without resources, particularly her friend Vikram Rangnekar, a computer genius who adores her. He used to feel guilty about what he did for the government. Now he’s with Jane, working hard to redeem himself.

The cast of characters, as with any Koontz novel, is Dickensian in its variety. There’s the unlikely team of an old Jewish man and an autistic black genius who are protecting Travis. A young filmmaker targeted for murder by the leader of the Arcadians, who turns out to be better at survival than even he ever imagined. There’s an appalling team of Arcadian assassins, united by their obsession with men’s fashion.

I thought the wrap-up of the story slightly contrived, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t weep manly tears as I read. I recommend the whole series, and I don’t think the finale will disappoint you.

And the writing’s darn good.

Cautions for rough language and horrific crimes.

‘Winter Moon,’ by Dean Koontz

The November sky was low, a uniform shade of lead gray, like an immense plastic panel behind which glowed arrays of dull fluorescent tubes.

Every Dean Koontz book raises the question: What will he try this time? His work spans sub-genres, and even entire genres. In Winter Moon, he switches into Lovecraftian mode, with an eldritch, evil, invertebrate monster – though probably not as ancient as Cthulhu.

In a near-future Los Angeles gradually sliding into entirely predictable chaos, Officer Jack McGarvey is nearly killed in a bloody shoot-out. After a long recovery and rehabilitation period, he works hard to maintain his native optimism – he assures his wife Heather and his son Toby that everything will be fine. But it’s hard to see how.

Then – an unexpected legacy. A man he hardly knows has willed him a ranch in Montana. When they visit, it seems like Paradise – a mountain retreat, far from the dangers and dysfunction of the big city. They happily move in and look forward to an idyllic life there.

But there’s something they don’t know. In the mountain woods, an Entity lurks. It is utterly alien – it has no understanding of people or even of terrestrial biology. And it doesn’t care. Its sole compulsion is to possess and absorb everything not itself.

Winter Moon scared the bejeebers out of me. Because this was Koontz and not Lovecraft, I was pretty sure it wouldn’t end in universal misery and perdition – and I was greatly relieved when the family acquired a Golden Retriever, always a good sign in a Koontz book. But I couldn’t figure out how the family could possibly escape. Which makes for high suspense.

Highly recommended, with cautions for the sort of thing you’d expect in this kind of novel.

I’m reading a Jane Austen book now. I felt like I needed a change.

‘Hideaway,’ by Dean Koontz

Pornography is the new mechanics of sex without the emotional context: lust ceaselessly indulged, love eternally unmentioned. That is also how novels of the supernatural read to me when they make much of otherworldly horror but say nothing of otherworldly redemption.

So I wrote a novel that dealt with both sides of the equation, in the belief that the forces of darkness seem more real and scarier when they are one half of a balanced narrative that includes the forces of light—just as making love with a cherished partner is immeasurably better than finding satisfaction in a porn film.

The passage above does not come from the text of Dean Koontz’s novel, Hideaway, but from an afterword to this edition, in which he reminisces about the book’s reception. He tells us how it became the first of his novels to receive a substantial amount of hate mail – because it assumes the existence of God. And he tells how it got made into a film – and how he eventually lost the artistic control he’d been promised but managed to get his name (mostly) removed from the film’s advertising, so great was his disgust with the final product.

When Hatch and Lindsey Harrison go off an icy mountain road in their car, victims of a drunk truck driver, they end up in a freezing river. Hatch dies and Lindsey barely survives. But by good fortune, the world’s foremost center for “re-animation” is only minutes away. A dedicated medical team brings Hatch back to life – after a record time dead, and amazingly without visible injury.

In the flush of a second chance, the couple decides to rebuild their life. Their major decision is to adopt a disabled child, a beautiful, spunky, and smart girl named Regina. Their second chance seems to be both physical and spiritual.

But somewhere in the darkness, in a secret place, there lurks a monster – an evil young man with a supernatural link to Hatch. This man worships Satan, and lives to kill. Through their psychic tie, the two men became aware of each other – Hatch is horrified, but the monster sees in his family the perfect prey he’s been hunting for.

I’d actually read Hideaway before, but I’d forgotten it almost completely, and the suspense was unimpaired on this reading. And suspense there was. I’d call Hideaway a tour de force in the tradition of C.S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength – a story where good is portrayed in heartbreaking beauty, while evil is exposed in all its banality and repulsiveness. I hardly made it through this book, but it was rewarding. And essentially a Christian story.

Recommended, with cautions for grotesquery and intense suspense.

‘The Forbidden Door,’ by Dean Koontz

The Forbidden Door

I’ll read pretty much anything Dean Koontz writes these days, and the Jane Hawk series definitely has an intriguing concept. But frankly, I think The Forbidden Door is an unnecessary book.

We continue the saga of Jane Hawk, former FBI agent who is all that stands between civilization and The Arcadians, a high-level conspiracy of elites who are gradually taking the country over through implanting nanomachines in people’s brains, turning them into slaves without free will. The Arcadians have already murdered her husband, and now they’ve turned Jane into the FBI’s most wanted criminal. Legal and extralegal resources are being marshaled to capture her. She hid her son Travis with friends, but now that hiding place has been discovered, and Travis is now staying with the most unlikely protector in the world – a brilliant agoraphobe who lives in a hidden bunker. If the Arcadians capture him, they’ll use him to bring Jane in.

I was interested to read The Forbidden Door, but I found it hard to read. Jane actually doesn’t do much in this story. Most of our time is spent either with her vile enemies, or with their victims or potential victims. The level of unease is high, and it’s not relieved as often as I would have liked.

I have a suspicion (probably wrong) that Koontz sketched this series out as a trilogy, and the publishers persuaded him to pad the story with one extra volume, to increase revenue. This book mostly represents that padding.

So I don’t recommend it highly, except in the sense that if you’re reading the whole series – which is worthwhile – you’ll probably need to read this one.

Cautions for language, violence, and disturbing themes.

‘The Crooked Staircase,’ by Dean Koontz

The Crooked Staircase

…In this world of rapid change, there were few things to which you could hold fast. Wisdom acquired through centuries of experience, traditions, and beloved neighborhoods eroded and washed away and with them went the people who found solace and meaning in those things, who once would have been part of your life for most of your life. Now a rootless population, believing in nothing but the style and fashion of the moment, produced a culture of surface conformity under which the reality was a loveless realm in which soon everyone would live as a stranger in a strange land.

Oh man. I thought this one would kill me. Dean Koontz’s Jane Hawk novels are tours de force in the thriller genre, and The Crooked Staircase just ups the stakes and speeds the pace.

This time out, Jane Hawk, former FBI agent and now a wanted fugitive, framed because she knows too much about a horrific conspiracy in high places, is hunting for the remaining top conspirator whose identity she knows. Finding him and “breaking” him are easy, compared to the fresh mysteries his information generates.

Meanwhile, an oddly matched, ruthless team of government agents are hunting for Jane’s son, whom she has hidden away with people who (she hopes) they can’t identify. But the agents have access to an infinite amount of information, and they are patient. And they’re getting closer.

The tension and suspense just never let up in The Crooked Staircase. Koontz’s skill in creating characters you really like and care about just makes it more nail-biting. Sometimes you’ll want to laugh, and sometimes you’ll want to cry. But you won’t be able to put it down.

Highly recommended. Cautions for language, violence, and adult themes, jolting in their effect but fairly mild by the standards of the genre.

‘The Whispering Room,’ by Dean Koontz

The Whispering Room

Those chosen for elimination were on what the conspirators called “the Hamlet list,” a fact Jane had learned from one of the two men she’d killed in self-defense the previous week. With the self-righteous air of a politician justifying graft as a form of social justice, he had explained that if someone had killed Hamlet in the first act of Shakespeare’s play, more people would have been alive at the end. They seemed really to believe that this ignorant literary interpretation justified the murder of 8,400 people a year.

I haven’t made a secret of my dislike for “Rambette” stories, where tiny little women run around beating up big, bad guys in the manner of Sly Stallone. However, I’m willing to cut Dean Koontz some slack, because he’s Dean Koontz and his work delights me. I enjoyed the first book in the Jane Hawk series, The Silent Corner, and The Whispering Room is equally good.

In a Minnesota town, a sweet, beloved teacher of children with learning disabilities kills herself in a horrific act of terrorism. The town sheriff, Luther Tillman, grows suspicious when federal agents sweep in to handle the investigation and put out information he knows to be false. His decision to investigate further will put him – and his family – in mortal danger. And worse.

Meanwhile Jane Hawk, our heroine, a former FBI agent and now the FBI’s most wanted fugitive, continues her quest to find and unmask the leaders of a nation-wide conspiracy aiming to kill off people who might alter history in the “wrong” way, and to create an army of brain-controlled automatons. She must travel in disguise, deal with criminals, and keep on the move to retain her freedom and her hope – and to protect her son, who is in the conspiracy’s sights.

I can find nothing to criticize in the storytelling in The Whispering Room. The tension is almost unbearable, the action (generally) plausible, the characters interesting. I particularly love how author Koontz finds ways to remind us that, even in the most perilous times, there is still goodness in the world.

Cautions for violence and language. Highly recommended.

‘Ricochet Joe,’ by Dean Koontz

I took another brief break from The Two Towers to read this new release from Dean Koontz. It wasn’t a long break. This is a Kindle Single, little more than a short story, and correspondingly inexpensive.

Fans of the Odd Thomas books will find Ricochet Joe evocative. The hero is Joe Mandel, an ordinary young man living in a small town. He goes to college, dreams of writing a novel, and volunteers for community clean-up projects. One day he picks up an empty rum bottle and feels a sudden, irresistible compulsion to run to a particular Corvette automobile. Touching the Corvette leads him to a further goal, until at last he’s in a position to stop a mugging. He also meets Portia Montclair, the beautiful young daughter of the local chief of police. She understands what’s happening to him, and soon Joe finds himself conscripted into a cosmic battle between good and evil – a battle that will cause him to make a heart-wrenching sacrifice.

The book is enhanced, if you read it on a Kindle device or app, by illustrations featuring built-in animation. The enhanced pictures are cool, but I don’t know that they added a whole lot to the reading experience. But hey, they came at no extra charge.

Ricochet Joe is not the greatest of Dean Koontz’s stories. It’s over too soon to really engage the reader. But it’s Koontz and it’s entertaining, and there’s another supernatural dog, and I recommend it. It won’t cost you much.

‘Dragon Tears,’ by Dean Koontz

Dragon Tears

Another Dean Koontz book downloaded to my Kindle because it didn’t seem familiar. I had read it before, of course, but I’d forgotten so much that all the surprises were still surprising (one of the side benefits of growing old, I guess).

Dragon Tears is both terrifying and sweet. The protagonists, a small group of people led by a male-female police team (who fall in love as we watch), are menaced by a truly horrifying villain – a man of no maturity at all who has nevertheless developed god-like powers, powers that grow every day. His ultimate goal is to make all humanity his slaves (he will reduce their numbers for environmental purposes). But for today he’s selected a small group – a mother and son living in their car, a homeless alcoholic, and the aforementioned pair of cops. The villain confronts them by means of avatars constructed of animated soil, warning them that he will kill them all – horribly – by dawn the next day. The cops take the initiative in trying to find a way to stop this guy, and they find assistance where they never looked for it.

Scary, charming, and a lot of fun, Dragon Tears is excellent entertainment. Cautions for intense situations and some rough language.

‘The Silent Corner,’ by Dean Koontz

The Silent Corner

There had been corruption in every civilization since time immemorial. If the corruption was of the heart, the culture could think its way to health with great effort. If the corruption was of the mind, it was more difficult to feel a way toward recovery, for the heart was a deceiver. If both mind and heart were riddled with malignancies—what then?

One of my few gripes with Dean Koontz is that he has bought 100% into the “butt-kicking female heroine” meme, in which tiny little women who look like models serve as action characters. The Silent Corner is premised on a character of this kind, but I must say Koontz makes it work here.

Jane Hawk, the heroine, is an FBI agent on leave following the suicide of her beloved husband. He was a happy, successful military officer, bound for a political career, when she found him dead in his bathtub one day, having left behind a note that made no sense.

Partly to relieve her pain, Jane started doing research on suicide. She discovered that suicide rates have been rising steadily for the past few years, and that a surprising number of promising, idealistic, and apparently happy people have stunned their families by killing themselves. One day she got a visit from a strange man – she thinks of it as a “courtesy call” – who told her that if she didn’t lay off, “they” would kill her and do worse than killing to her young son.

Jane doesn’t have it in her to quit. She hides her son with people she trusts, who have no traceable link to her, and embarks on a dangerous investigation. She doesn’t have much hope of success as she gradually learns the wealth and power she’s going up against, as well as the horrific plans these people have for all of humanity. But better to die trying than do nothing. These people will eventually kill her and her boy, she calculates, even if she leaves them alone.

One generally expects a supernatural element in a Dean Koontz novel, but The Silent Corner is pure dystopian science fiction. It’s fast and sharp and scary and touching, written with grace. It’s the first book in a series, and I look forward to the next one, The Whispering Room.

Recommended, with mild cautions.

‘From the Corner of His Eye,’ by Dean Koontz

Out of the Corner of His Eye

“The problem with movies and books is they make evil look glamorous, exciting, when it’s no such thing. It’s boring and it’s depressing and it’s stupid. Criminals are all after cheap thrills and easy money, and when they get them, all they want is more of the same, over and over. They’re shallow, empty, boring people who couldn’t give you five minutes of interesting conversation if you had the piss-poor luck to be at a party full of them….”

I did it again. Bought a Dean Koontz book I thought I hadn’t read, but I had. However, it’s such a sprawling, multi-threaded epic work that I’d forgotten most of it and didn’t tip to my mistake until I was a long way in.

From the Corner of His Eye is ostensibly about a remarkable, gifted boy who goes blind. But that boy, Bartholomew Lampier, actually occupies the stage for a small portion of the book, and much of that while he’s a baby. The real central character might be his mother Agnes, “the pie lady,” who has devoted her life to baking delicious pies, which she delivers to disadvantaged neighbors, along with groceries. Or it might be Detective Thomas Vanadium, former Jesuit priest and amateur physicist, who devotes his life to hunting down murderers, sometimes employing magic to apply psychological pressure.

One day in the early 1960s, a pastor in a small Oregon church delivered a radio sermon called, “This Momentous Day.” It focused on the career of the obscure apostle Bartholomew as an example of an individual who seemed undistinguished, but who in fact had eternal and world-spanning influence. Junior Cain, a murderer and a rapist, happened to hear that sermon. Somehow, within the foul fistula that made up his mind and soul, he came to believe that there was a man named Bartholomew – somewhere out there – who was bent on destroying him. So Junior makes it the obsession of his life to find this Bartholomew and kill him. Continue reading ‘From the Corner of His Eye,’ by Dean Koontz

‘By the Light of the Moon,’ by Dean Koontz

By the Light of the Moon

I bought this book by mistake. I knew a new Dean Koontz was coming out (I’ll review it soon), and somehow I got the idea that By the Light of the Moon was it. Once I had it on my Kindle I realized I’d read it before, and I expect I’ve reviewed it here before. But Koontz will bear a reprise, so I read it again.

Koontz isn’t a repetitive writer, but he does tend to give us recognizable types and situations. The setup in this story is classic Koontz. A mad scientist, Lincoln Procter, on the run from merciless killers, waylays three innocent people in an Arizona motel and injects them with a formula he’s developed. He’s not sure what the results will be, he explains, but they could be positive.

The three victims are Jilly Jackson, a female stand-up comic, and Dylan O’Connor, a traveling artist who is sole custodian of his autistic brother. Procter warns them that the men pursuing him will soon pursue them, to destroy the formula that now flows in their veins. Dylan, Shep, and Jilly set out on a breakneck race to save their lives, but are constantly waylaid, not by the bad guys, but by strange compulsions that start to come over Dylan, causing him to take action to prevent horrible crimes. Shep begins to exhibit a power of his own, a valuable one, but the difficulties of communicating with an autistic person add considerable dramatic tension.

Lots of fun, lots of excitement, some romance, and a measure of wisdom. Good book. I particularly liked the villain, Lincoln Procter (whose name, I think, is intended to echo Hannibal Lector). He’s an original kind of antagonist – a thoroughly bad and selfish man who thinks he can justify himself through constant self-criticism. I know people kind of like that (I’m one of them myself. There! I just did it again!).

Recommended. Cautions for language and intense situations.

‘Ashley Bell,’ by Dean Koontz

A relaxing massage, and then chardonnay and a silly-fun session of divination, and the next thing you know, you’ve attracted the attention of an incarnation of Hitler, and you’ve invited occult forces into your life, and you’ve been spared from cancer only so that some lunatic can stab you to death with a thousand pencils.

One of the joys of being a Dean Koontz fan is the many surprises he offers. Not for him the comfortable formulas that endear us to other authors (often providing considerable legitimate pleasures). Koontz keeps trying new things. With the exception of a very few series books, such as the Odd Thomas adventures, Koontz keeps tricking us – except that you can almost count on some kind of supernatural dog somewhere in his recent works.

The heroine of Ashley Bell is not the titular character, but a young California woman named Bibi Blair. Beautiful, a superior surfer, engaged to a military hero, her career goal is to be a famous author, and she’s made fair progress in that direction.

And then one day her arm starts feeling funny, and the doctor informs her she has a rare brain cancer. Inoperable and 100% fatal.

Bibi is a fighter. She refuses to give up. She announces that she will fight this thing and win.

That very night, she has a vision, and is healed.

The next day, to celebrate, her hippie parents give her the gift of a massage and a psychic reading. The psychic tells her her life has been spared for a reason. The reason, she divines, is to save the life of a young girl. The girl’s name is Ashley Bell.

Bibi takes the message seriously. She sets out to find Ashley Bell, and finds herself the target of a sinister cult devoted to human sacrifice.

The story starts strange, and gets stranger and stranger. Then, around the half-way point, Koontz blindsides the reader, and it becomes a very different kind of story. I won’t spoil the twist for you, but it’s pretty neat.

I’m not sure that the ending of Ashley Bell is quite worthy of the skillful storytelling that kept me riveted up to that point. But I’m not sure it’s not, either.

I do know it was like no other book I’ve read, and I wouldn’t have missed it.

Highly recommended. Mild cautions for adult themes.

‘Final Hour,’ by Dean Koontz

Dean Koontz has a new novel, Ashley Bell, coming out next month. In the run-up, he’s releasing two related novellas which share a character with that book.

The first one was Last Light, which I read and enjoyed, but didn’t review. But I’m reviewing Final Hour. I liked them both.

The main character of each book is a beautiful young woman, Makani Hisoka-O’Brien. She’s a native of Hawaii, but lives in southern California where she restores classic cars and surfs at the expert level. She loves her island home and her family, but has left them to save her relationship with both. This is because she’s cursed with a supernatural gift – she can tell, through touch, any person’s darkest secrets. This makes it impossible for her to have close relationships, except with her black Labrador, Bob, and her boyfriend, “Pogo,” who is (apparently) pure of heart.

The simple premise of this story is that one day Makani brushes the arm of a jogger, another beautiful young woman. She realizes in an instant that this woman has a twin, and that she is holding that twin prisoner in a secret place and starving her to death.

There’s no question what Makani has to do. With the help of Bob and Pogo, she sets out to rescue the captive.

It’s a great story, with some excellent writing – I especially liked one chapter title: “She Walks in Beauty Like a Polyester Resin.”

There’s a very neat twist at the end.

Recommended. I’m looking forward to Ashley Bell.

‘The City,’ by Dean Koontz


After you have suffered great losses and known much pain, it is not cowardice to wish to live henceforth with a minimum of suffering. And one form of heroism, about which few if any films will be made, is having the courage to live without bitterness when bitterness is justified, having the strength to persevere even when perseverance seems unlikely to be rewarded, having the resolution to find profound meaning in life when it seems the most meaningless.

One of the many things I love about Dean Koontz is the breadth of his artistic pallet. Your average bestselling writer (and I do the same though I’m not a bestseller) will keep doing the thing that made him famous, over and over. And the public likes it most of the time.

Koontz improvises. He tries stuff. He can write horror or fantasy or mystery. He can be funny, or heartbreaking, or profound, or terrifying. The City, his latest, is mostly a fusion of the lyrical and the tragic.

Jonah Kirk, his narrator and hero, tells us of his childhood in the 1960s, first of all in an apartment house in a poor black neighborhood, his father mostly absent. That’s the downside. The upside is that he’s part of a big, loving, extended family. His grandfather is a legendary jazz pianist, his mother a gifted vocalist. And Jonah himself soon finds he has the makings of a great piano man. He also finds a friend in a neighbor, Mr. Yoshioka, a survivor of the Manzanar internment camp.

Moving with his mother out of the apartment and to his grandparents’ house, he soon meets two neighbor kids – Malcolm Pomerantz, an archetypal geek who is nevertheless a talented saxophonist, and his beautiful sister Alathea. They’re all gifted dreamers, and their dreams are large…

But there’s a destiny hanging over Jonah. He once had a dream of a beautiful woman strangled to death, and the next day he met that woman on the apartment building stairway. That touch of premonition in his life kicks off a series of visions and revelations.

And visions and revelations, the author makes it clear, come at a price.

I loved The City. It was a beautiful story, beautifully written. It broke my heart. I read it with fascination, but could only take it in small chunks, because of the sadness.

Highly recommended. But keep a hanky handy.

‘Odd Thomas’ (the Film)

Some of us were looking forward to the Odd Thomas movie, due in 2013, but it only happened in a marginal way. Legal problems prevented a conventional theater release, as I understand it. It’s now available on disk and on Netflix, where I viewed it.

Apparently a lot of people who’ve seen it didn’t like it. Well I liked it fine. I have quibbles, but I enjoyed immensely.

A very faithful adaptation of Dean Koontz’s first novel in the Odd Thomas series, this film stars Anton Yelchin, who’s appropriately charming in the role. Addison Timlin plays his beloved Stormy Llewellyn, and Willem Dafoe is Sheriff Wyatt Porter. Odd is a simple fry cook in a small town, but he has the supernatural power to see dead people who, though they can’t speak to him, appeal for his help in identifying their murderers or helping them “cross over” into the next world. He also sees demons he calls “bodachs” whose appearance inevitably portends some major act of mass violence. An unprecedented number of bodachs have been prowling the town recently, and Odd is compelled to do all he can to discover who’s planning mass murder, and stop them.

The cast is almost uniformly excellent, especially Yelchin, who seems to have the spirit of the character down, which is the really important matter for any lover of the books.

I have only a couple quibbles. One is that Odd is hyped a bit, presented as having Benihana skills with spatulas, and being a sort of martial arts master. That’s not a big deal. Worse is the casting of Patton Oswalt as Odd’s friend Boone, perhaps the worst miscasting since Whoopie Goldberg played Bernie Rodenbahr in Burglar. Fortunately his scene is very short.

All in all, perhaps the most faithful adaptation of a novel I’ve ever seen, and well worth viewing or even buying.

And yes, if you must know, I cried.