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A Koontz Kwicky

dark rivers of the heartYeah, I know. Another long period with no writing. And I’m sorry. Again. But let’s move on, shall we?

I just finished another Dean Koontz book, “Dark Rivers of the Heart,” (1994, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.) True, not one of his newest (or, to be honest, one of his best), but with the amount of books Koontz has written sometimes you need to go back to his earlier works just because. In this case, his theme deals with what’s happening with this country’s government and how, as it gets bigger, its ethics and morals shrink. Still relevant today, no?

Of course, being Koontz, it’s also about the nature of evil. Sorry, no supernatural elements in this book, but he makes up for that by including not one but two serial killers. Combine that with political intrigue, an urgent search, a desperate flight from the authorities and a terrifying encounter with this nation’s property seizure laws and you’ve got vintage Koontz.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one, but a man walks into a bar and meets a cocktail waitress. Spencer and Valerie (not their real names) strike up a conversation, get along and he goes back in the next night to see her again. But she never shows up for her shift. Now he KNOWS this isn’t because of him, so he goes to her place to make sure she’s alright. Bad move. Someone else is looking for her as well, someone named Roy. Roy is a chief operative of a rogue government agency that pretty much does whatever it wants to whoever it wants. Like this waitress and this guy.

Well, Roy and his boys blow the living you-know-what out of her place with the guy barely escaping with his life. And the chase is on! And being Koontz, there’s plenty going on here. But the main thing in this book is the examination of different kinds of evil: ideological, institutional and stand alone evil.

Let’s start with Roy, the government operative we met above. He’s the first of the serial killers we meet. You see, Roy is a believer in Utopia and the perfectibility of the human race – by a select group of superior humans. He being one of them, of course. Those who can’t fit in to the perfect world need to be compassionately dealt with. With carefully placed bullets. Heck, sometimes people just having a bad day need compassion too. Or those with disabilities. The need is never-ending and Roy is a very compassionate person. And since there is no god but the State, he can make up the rules as he goes.

Not as dramatically horrifying as Roy, but more overwhelmingly oppressive, is the institutional evil of a too-powerful State. You see, Roy isn’t ALWAYS compassionate. Sometimes he’s a bit thin-skinned and gets pissy. Then, instead of showing compassion, he just makes life miserable for his target. Like the unfortunate LAPD captain, Harris Descoteaux. He made the mistake of saying that, “No one’s more dangerous than a man who’s convinced of his own moral superiority,” to Roy. Who, naturally, is convinced of his own moral superiority. Roy considers killing him, but then decides that “Greater punishments than death were within his power to bestow.” Like introducing Harris to our country’s asset-forfeiture laws. Current as of 1994, the laws and government powers Koontz illustrates are scary beyond belief. To think that our own country has this ability and actually uses it against its citizens is chilling.

Finally, we meet the second serial killer, Steven. Steven is the real deal, a serial killer refined and distilled to its essence. He tortures his victims horrendously before inflicting a slow death and then using their bodies for his “artwork.” He has contempt for Roy and mocks him mercilessly: ” . . . you should hear Roy rant on about compassion, about the poor quality of life that so many people live and shouldn’t have to, about reducing population by ninety percent to save the environment. He loves everybody. He understands their suffering. He weeps for them. And when he has a chance, he’ll blow them to kingdom come to make society a little nicer.” So what is Roy doing wrong? Why doesn’t Steven give him the approval and validation he craves? Simple: “Roy doesn’t understand that these things have to be done for fun. Only for fun. Otherwise, it’s insane, it really is, to do it for some noble purpose. . . . He’s the least prejudiced, most egalitarian, foaming-at-the-mouth lunatic who ever lived.” Like I said, stand alone evil. Pure, dark nihilism. And, of course, Steven is right. All Roy’s wonderful “motives” are personal rationalizations.

I won’t give away how all these strains of evil play out in this novel. There are plenty of twists and turns to enjoy, and Koontz’ characters are marvelous as usual. But spend some time meditating on the nature of evil as Koontz lays it out here, and you will realize that there are things afoot in our world and our country that we had better pay attention to.

 

 
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Posted by on September 7, 2015 in Book Review

 

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A Koontz Novella

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.

 
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Posted by on October 23, 2013 in Book Review

 

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Quick Koontz Review

When is a haunted house not a haunted house? When it’s in a Dean Koontz novel, of course.

English: Film poster for The Haunted House

English: Film poster for The Haunted House (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In Koontz’ “77 Shadow Street,” as in so many of his novels, things aren’t what they seem to be when the trip begins. Take an old, luxury apartment building called the Pendleton that used to be a mansion, add a cast of 10 or so wealthy tenants and employees, throw in an elevator that descends below the basement and a swimming pool with something strange in it and you have what seems to be the beginning of a supernatural thriller.

Koontz loves to explore the nature of evil, and in this story he looks at it from a different angle. Told through the varying viewpoints of different characters, we see that the source of evil isn’t always something intentional but can easily come from the unintended consequences of human actions. Especially if those actions come from the desire to play God.

Truly, no other author that I know of today can create a believable character in so few sentences as can Dean Koontz. He always amazes me. The problem with this novel is that there are so many of them that the reader has trouble deciding which character to focus on. Add to that that the layout of the building is a key part of the story (there is even a 2 page diagram of the Pendleton at the start of the book), and it becomes increasingly difficult to follow the thematic thread of the novel.

Because of the nature of the story, I can’t go into much detail about the events in it. I don’t want to spoil anything for you if you decide to read it. And you should read it. Despite the drawbacks, it IS a Koontz novel and even one of his sub-par stories is better than many of today’s tale spinners’ best efforts. Yes, I am a fan.

By all means, pick up “77 Shadow Street.” Get the paperback edition if you can because it contains a bonus novella titled “The Moonlit Mind.” At 137 pages, that’s a nice extra and won’t take much of your time. Plus it’s got a dog in it.

 
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Posted by on September 16, 2013 in Book Review

 

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