Dean Koontz likes big houses.
In his novella, “The Moonlit Mind,” Crispin lives with his mom, brother and sister in a three-floor, forty-four thousand square foot mansion called Theron Hall which belongs to his stepfather, Giles. The novel to which this novella is attached, “77 Shadow Street,” takes place in a luxury, three-floor apartment building called The Pendleton which used to be the private residence of a very rich family. Other Koontz books have had very large homes and buildings featured prominently as well. Nothing good usually happens in any of them.
Fortunately, Koontz lets Crispin escape into the nearby city as he tries to evade his stepfather’s agents. Why? Well, I don’t want to give too much away, so let’s just say that Crispin is to be the guest of honor at a very special ceremony. A ceremony that Crispin wants no part of. So off into the city he goes, living by his wits and hiding in parks, stores, and abandoned warehouses. Of course, this being a Dean Koontz story, he hooks up with a very cool stray dog he names Harley. A boy and his dog, loose in a city with no one to tell them what to do? What kid hasn’t imagined what that would be like?
Using a clever story device, Koontz uses flashbacks and flash-forwards between the 9 year-old Crispin and the 12 year-old Crispin, effectively showing the reader how he came to be in this predicament and how he finally deals with the events put in motion by his mom’s marriage to Giles. Along the way there are the signature Koontz jabs at modern American culture (a nightclub named Narcissus; a televangelist program called The Wide Eye of the Needle), and quirky, deftly drawn characters (the children’s tutor, Mordred; Crispin’s friend and fellow runaway, Amity, who lives in a department store and is known as the Phantom of Broderick’s).
Koontz’s newer novels all deal with the nature of evil and this novella is no different, though, being essentially an extended short story, there’s not much subtlety in its depiction. And that’s alright. Koontz clearly meant this tale to be a quick, fun ride, and he succeeds in providing the reader with a good time along with some creepy twists (you’ve heard of voodoo dolls; how about a voodoo house-model of the aforementioned Theron Hall?).
And, yes, there’s a lesson here. With Koontz there always is and, honestly, that’s one of the things I like about his works. In his earlier series of Frankenstein books, two of his characters come to the conclusion that fighting bad ideas is a life’s work. Koontz’s novels engage bad ideas, and evil, head-on and grant no quarter. This is good because there is no shortage of bad ideas in our world today.
In the Moonlit Mind, we relearn the old lesson that things, and people, are seldom just what they appear to be. Face value could very well be a mask. There’s more here, but I’ll let you read this tale to get at the rest.