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Immunized Koontz

  • Nov 28, 2010
Approximately fifteen years ago, I was an avid Dean Koontz fan. Classics like "Watchers," and "Strangers" provided an instant mind-mesmerize where, from page one until the closing of the book's binding, I could read and read, getting caught up in a story that was different, from which I had developed no immunities, that moved along and entertained as well as intrigued. Unfortunately, as with all good things, Koontz's story lines became increasingly mundane and muddled as his popularity took off and he seemed to be churning out bestselling thrillers at a rate that made me wonder if the Koontz name was representative of a well-oiled corporation of writers rather than just one man. Due to what I perceived at that point on as plebeian pap, my Koontz thriller reading days ceased and I moved on to other writers.

"What the Night Knows" is the first novel I've read by Koontz in quite a long time. But keep in mind that most of the reasons that I objected to his hits of the last ten years waned in my memory so long ago I've forgotten exactly what I disliked. Perhaps, now, I can judge "What the Night Knows" without the taint of his other stories foreshadowing my opinion and objectively review it on its merit alone.

Like older Stephen King novels, Koontz's first breakaway hits were new to the genre. They targeted little heretofore undiscussed cracks in the foundation of the human psyche. King's ability to convert a child's aversion to a clown into an insidious menace that haunts a group of boys into their manhood in "It" frightens on a level that dismantles our modern pragmatic sensibilities. Koontz's frankensteinian misuse of a dog, man's best friend, similarly, breaks down some inherent rule that rocks the steadfastness of our worlds. Both writers remove the gothic primness out of the horror story and infuse their stories with a newness that is both familiar to us and in another way strangely abhorrent. Like our first foray with Hannibal Lector in "The Silence of the Lambs (Hannibal Lecter)," we close our eyes and squirm with the unpleasantness that this literary creature invokes. However, after an entire culture embraces this monster familiarizing itself with his awful stare and mimicking the now famous line about someone's liver served with a nice Chianti, what was once mutant and exciting becomes a flu virus less virulent, more controllable through repeat exposure and eventually rendered ineffective, almost laughable.

For the most part, "What the Night Knows" delivers an intense entertainment designed to explore the residual effects of a murder committed by a deranged killer over twenty years earlier. The plot tracks the collateral damage in the mindset of John Calvino, the sole survivor of the slaughtered family. As a young teenager, he caught the murderer, Alton Turner Blackwood, in the act and as an act of necessity becomes his slayer with all the psychological ramifications. Now as a husband with three children of his own, he senses that the bleakest episode of his life is about to repeat itself. As a police detective, he is privy to homicides and avidly follows them, looking for details that feel familiar. When he comes upon the murder of a family by a killer that claims to have intimate knowledge of the Calvino killings and Blackwood, John's panic button rings with a dire certainty. Intrinsically, he knows the target is his family and with a gut sick with fear, realizes he does not know how to avoid what he feels is inevitable.

Koontz's ability as an experienced storyteller allows him to build a realistic tension that urges the reader on from chapter to chapter, exploring the impending situation from the vantage point of John, his wife, children, and the others used by the relentless Blackwood. Koontz's juxtaposition of the innocent variables in the plot, namely the mindset of John's three children and his wife and the consistent malignance of Blackwood, his enablers and the more ancient evil from which all is derived make for an interesting study between age old forces.

If he fails, it is in his rather nebulous description of the youngest sibling, Minnie's special intuition regarding spirits and the other dimension in which they inhabit. Intrinsic to the plot and its outcome, Koontz does spend a lengthy amount of verbiage developing this character. However, during climatic scenes, some of her revelations, rendered with the innocence of a child, of course, lack a substantial explanation. Jokingly, Koontz refers to his conclusion as a `Machina ex Deus' that although potentially clever, doesn't quite work. Minnie as the portal to the unknown occult knowledge and her ability to conjure and see, should have been explored more fully with more concrete examples of what she dreams in alpha state and what those dreams actually facilitate in the real world.

Indeed Koontz's quick revelatory segment for John, as his lead character, at the crux of the most hair-raising life and death situation seems almost flippant: much too simplistic--not in terms of the profundity of his message but in the sense of how little time he takes to say it and expects his readers to buy it.

Bottom line? Dean Koontz's "What the Night Knows" provides the rush of horror that one expects from vintage Koontz, albeit a classic Koontz tale that has been immunized by the over exposure of this genre. However, some elements work better in the story than others: in this case, the mix of good and bad characters make for an interesting shift of perspective, but the villain's motivation seems undeveloped even though a history in the form of a notebook journal is provided. In addition, the idea of possession in a Faustian sense is touched upon but never truly explored with horrific details that would provide a skin-crawling "The Exorcist" experience. The climatic scenes thrills but doesn't quite equate to that synergistic 2 + 2 that equals 5. Still and all, even though it is not of the same high Koontz-caliber as `Strangers' or `Watchers,' it's a good read which is recommended.
Diana Faillace Von Behren

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Diana Faillace Von Behren ()
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I like just about anything. My curiosity tends to be insatiable--I love the "finding out" and the "ah-ha" moments.      Usually I review a book or film with the … more
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Villains and Vegetables
Readers ask certain questions over and over again. Such as, "How often have you been institutionalized?" and "How does your wife sleep at night, knowing what kind of stories spring from your mind?" and "If you could be any kind of vegetable, what vegetable would you be?"

Because I found most schoolwork tedious, I felt as if I had been institutionalized for fifteen years--throughout grade school, high school, and college. In the grim institution called high school, as a kid in a small town, my therapy consisted of reading novels and listening to rock-and-roll on tower-of-power radio stations in distant cities. In college, my therapy was all-night pinochle tournaments. I cut more classes than Sweeney Todd cut throats.

My wife sleeps peacefully, thank you. She knows I'm basically a pussycat. We have been together since high school, and in all those years, the only living thing she has seen me cut is myself; any time I pick up the simplest tool or kitchen implement to do some minor household task, my blood will inevitably flow. I've been known to cut myself accidentally with something as seemingly safe as a rolling pin.

Sugar snap peas.

Another frequently asked question is "How do you create such bizarre yet convincing and terrifying villains." The glib answer is to say I watch the evening news. In fact, however, the antagonists in my novels create themselves, just as do the protagonists. I conceive a ...

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Mystery & Thrillers, Dean Koontz, What The Night Knows


ISBN-10: 0553807722
ISBN-13: 978-0553807721
Author: Dean Koontz
Genre: Mystery & Thrillers
Publisher: Bantam
Date Published: December 28, 2010
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