Dean Koontz is amazing. Not only does he write great books; he writes so MANY of them! I’m not privy to his work habits, but the man must be supremely disciplined to produce such a huge body of work. And where do all those wild ideas come from? Year after year they just keep coming.
Can you tell I’m a big Dean Koontz fan?
“What the Night Knows” (2011 Bantam Books Premium Mass Market Edition) is vintage Koontz. Believable, likeable characters in comfortable and seemingly safe surroundings find themselves confronting something that their worldview never prepared them for. This is the classic fairy tale formula. As G.K. Chesterton wrote, “The fairy tale discusses what a sane man will do in a mad world.” When Koontz cranks it up, there are no madder worlds than his.
That Koontz intends this story to be a sort of fairy tale is clear from the very first lines of the book: “What year these events transpired is of no consequence. Where they occurred is not important. The time is always, and the place is everywhere.” He might well have written, “Once upon a time. . . ”
A vicious killer is murdering entire families. During the murder of the fourth family, the monster is surprised by the last living member, a fourteen-year-old boy, who shoots him in the face. Again and again and again. Alton Turner Blackwood is dead. Very dead.
Jump ahead 20 years. The boy is now a homicide detective and he’s looking into a new series of family murders that re-create in detail those of Alton Turner Blackwood. Is someone copying the killings? Or has Blackwood somehow returned from the grave? Either way, John Calvino, the fourteen-year-old-turned-homicide detective, is pretty sure that his own family is in danger.
As Calvino races the clock to figure out who or what is doing the killings, Koontz takes the reader on an exploration of the nature and sources of evil.
This is familiar territory for Koontz, who has examined human evil in many of his recent novels. But in “What the Night Knows,” he expands his view of evil to include its supernatural aspects and the vulnerability of humans to things they have lost the ability to believe in.
The story ebbs and flows, whisking the reader along with the first page then slowing down a bit in the middle section before racing headlong to the finish. The characters are classic Koontz, but the one that truly stands out is John Calvino’s youngest daughter, Minnie. Of course, there’s a heroic dog.
But the star of this novel isn’t any particular character, or the clever plot, or the brooding atmosphere. The dark center that holds our attention here is evil, evil that is both human and supernatural. Evil that doesn’t care whether we believe in it or not.
Just before the story plunges into the frantic conclusion, John Calvino asks a defrocked priest the question about evil that humans have wrestled with for thousands of years: Why? The answer is perhaps the most frightening thing one can imagine: “Why not? Evil doesn’t exist to justify itself. It exists for the pleasure of corruption and the destruction of the innocent.”
And we are all vulnerable.