So, to Dean Koontz, or not to Dean Koontz? That is the question. Also one laced with the slight worry that the writer had any empathy with his murderous character from Relentless who went a little bit further than writing a strongly worded letter to anyone who criticised his books....
Seriously, though. I have read so many of this man's books - easily done when he seemingly churns out about 712 a year. Amongst them are some gems, some really inventive, thoughtful and strongly written plots and characters you don't just understand but who linger with you long after the reading is over. But along the way you see the formulaic repetitiveness that frustrates the hell out of me more and more as I progress through his body of work.
Recently, after a period of ill health and being on a few days off, we finally made it to Mr Rarr's parents' new home in Cornwall. The idea was plenty of R&R for me and a bit of sea air, as my problems with recurring ill health stem from a very upsetting recurrence of what was out-grown childhood asthma. For that, I would need a book, and having gone through the entire River Cottage Bread Handbook whilst my superb other half drove me, rattling on Sudafed and inhalers, to the dark depths of Cornwall, that meant I might have to go shopping.
Tesco, bane of bookshops and sporadic saint to those short of both new book and pound in pocket, provided me with two options from Koontz that I hadn't been aware of before. One was the fifth in what was once meant to be the three-part Frankenstein series, and as I haven't read the third and fourth, it meant that 77 Shadow Street came home with me and I started reading it that very afternoon on the sofa as soon as we got back - I didn't move off the sofa all day and as I'm sure you can understand that not being able to breathe can make very boring! So I had to invest high hopes in this offer from Koontz.
***77 SHADOW STREET***
The Pendleton stands as an icon to one man's determination and indulgence in architecture - but that man's life soon descended into deep misery as his wife and children were seemingly abducted years before now, never seen again.
This was not to be the only tragic event to strike the Pendleton, as modern resident Silas learns as he researches its history in desperate attempt to fill the void left after the death of his beloved wife. He is a resident in the modern age, the book set in 2011 when the building is a luxurious apartment building.
Silas starts to spot a pattern in the tragic occurrences that seem to hit the building every 38 years. And as he does so, he realises that the next should be imminent in the next few days. Meanwhile, the easily unlikeable Senator who owns one of the apartment goes missing, and shadows start to move menacingly, terrorising residents like Sally Hollander, who found refuge in a small apartment in the Pendleton paid for by her employers, the cake-empire owning Cupp sisters. Silas senses that there was more to the "disappearance" of the wife and children of the original Pendleton owner, but can't envisage how accurate he is as he hears first-hand accounts of former events coupled with his own knowledge of growing, threatening happenings in the building.
Meanwhile Bailey Hawkes has a disconcerting and seemingly impossible close call with a shadowy figure under the water of the Pendleton pool, whilst songwriter Twyla Trahern is unaware that her son Winston, intelligent beyond his age, has been enduring strange incidents involving his television and something unknown seemingly using it to try to communicate with him.
Soon they and the other inhabitants of the modern-day Pendleton realise that the full force of whatever is causing these unfathomable episodes is upon them, and survival becomes their foremost concern as the true meaning behind the situation starts to become clear. Who will survive the ordeal and what has caused the terror they are forced to endure?
***SO, A GOOD READ?***
To me this Koontz book has, like so many, great potential, but becomes a bit "write it by numbers". It reminds me hugely of The Taking, a book that I enjoyed massively, but only by way of the fact that it seems his modus operandi in writing the book is throwing sci fi horror nastiness at the reader, followed by the eventual understanding of the characters in which is delivered the moral message which inspired the writing in the first place. Maybe if this had been written before The Taking or if I had read it first then I would prefer this, although I suspect I would still consider The Taking superior.
This book differs in that the apartment building being used as a scene allowed for more characters than The Taking (although there are massive similarities between many regardless). So what you have here with the usual graphically horrific description of the situation the characters have to endure is an almost ensemble cast - after the initial scene is set Koontz actually swaps between characters with their name in italics above the documentation of their experience. This is useful in that it means all characters can be involved and also their own experience and reaction can document the events that play out through the whole building, but I think that the book suffers for strong characterisation that I know the writer has created before, in efforts such as The Taking and Lightning.
Koontz's ability to write horror is still perfectly evident (whilst in comparison with The Taking whilst the basic structure is similar I didn't find this as graphic, however). However none of these characters are a patch on Odd Thomas or some of Koontz's other really memorable creations. The relationships between them didn't seem to build sufficiently and the ending, whilst clever in its use of these multiple characters, in some case just in their survival and in others how they take the experience further and progress in showing what is learnt from it, seems disproportionately rushed compared to the length and involvement of the story - possibly because there are so many people's accounts being documented.
Amazingly, there isn't a Golden Retriever in this book. There are two cats, but that's about it. There is not one but two strong women, and if you're waiting for the autistic child to show up, you won't go long disappointed. So the formulaic tendencies which Koontz uses so often that I am tempted to call clichés are not missing. And I for one am getting fed up of them - yes, the use of an autistic character here helps develop another in this book, but when you've had the same combination of characters (with or without a shiny hyper-intelligent yellow dog) thrown at you over about twenty books in the last eight years or so, it just gets too repetitive for words, and the depth it adds to each story is compromised as a result.
So overall, whilst I couldn't not finish this once I had started, with the rushed ending and the characters in some cases seeming oh-so-disappointingly familiar, this book ultimately left me feeling a bit deflated when the final page was turned. The investment of my time as a reader wasn't rewarded as I know that this writer can, and I can't honestly say that I see this book as being one that will sneak onto the list of books I have reread one day in the distant future. It promised quite a bit but sadly the overall experience, whilst this is a good read taken on its own, wasn't up to the standard that I know the author can achieve.
I just hope to god he doesn't react to bad reviews in the same way that his character in Relentless does. Or I'm toast.
Somehow, I've decided to read every Dean Koontz book ever written. It's been a journey with highs and lows, a bit like being a Man City fan from 1978 until the present day - there's been long periods of mundane, uninspiring dourness (the Alan Ball years or Koontz's Demon Seed) peppered with the odd flash of genius (THAT Aguero goal or Koontz's The Watchers). This book, 77 Shadow St is a bit of mid table mediocrity (the Sven years or Breathless). I'll try to back this up below.
On Shadow Hill stands the Pendleton, a converted 19th century mansion now serving as luxury appartments. There is a variety of characters living within, all with their own back story and all are thrown together into adversity when strange things begin to happenin a single night.
The source of these strange things seems to be an old volcanic vent hole buried in the building's basement - a vent hole that is somehow also acting as a doorway to the supernatural underworld. As the events of the night get more sinister, the residents are picked off liked spots on a teenager's face. Apparitions become more real, the walls start to talk, rooms go back in time and past residents of the Pendleton are seen as they were more than a hubdred years ago.
Do all the residents make it through the night? What or who exactly is behind the supernatural and scary events?
I enjoyed the book in the same way that I would enjoy driving home from the dentist - acutely aware that I've just been through a bad experience but relieved when it has finally finished and the sound of the dentist's drill has finished ringing in my ears and the last page of the book was read. I despair sometimes with Dean Koontz - he's either brilliant or so bad I wonder if he's writing parodies of his own work as an intellectual exercise.
The book actually started off well and I thought quite a few times how different and fresh this felt as a relatively new book (2011) compared to his older books, which are often stuck in a formulaic rut going back some 20 years or more. I was kept interested by the different characters covered in the early chapters as I knew something was going to happen that would tie them all together, and I was eager to find out exactly what that would be.
When the part of the plot was developed that revealed what the house was doing, there were too many unanswered questions for me to keep it credible. Don't get me wrong, I know this particular story has a large dash of fantasy in the mix (some might say science fiction, but that's a matter of opinion) but even so there wasn't much to the storyline that I could believe in.
Also, what could have been a killer blow as a finale was more of a limp-wristed slap which served to be a rusty nail in a sub-standard coffin - think MDF rather than Brazillian Ebony and solid iron bolts. The public spirited side of me is itching to reveal the ending so that others don't have to endure its ludicrous climax. What it did reveal to me was, sadly, that Mr Koontz has lost his mojo and perhaps I should stop reading any more of his books - my therapist does say that I don't handle disappointment very well. Perhaps my expectations would have been better managed if the book had been advertised as a mildly spooky farce rather than the sinister scare fest I was expecting.
A below average book deserves a below average score, 2 stars. No more.
Dean Koontz, the Master, the Chosen One of the murderous spine tingling genre does it again. Delft with words that dances in each sentences, it weaves a gory psychologies of human traits that are seen as weakness, or strengths of those who fight to stay alive.
The story revolves around a former manor, now converted into apartments of the wealthy and affluent from varied backgrounds. There are so many different characters in different apartments, over the course of the story the backgrounds and personality of those evolve. There is no main character, which for me an avid Dean Koontz fan, is highly unusual.
A presence living in what can be said as Hell underneath the hill the manor is situated, gives clues of what is to unfold.
On the first page a few sleeves down are plans of the apartment in question, I found that terribly useful as I got confused to who lives where and which windows Self went past and where the security rooms were.
I recommend this book, Dean Koontz rarely disappoints. His earlier works were very vividly savage, for the last few years he has now matured into human psychologies along with spiritual awareness, I am finding it refreshing to read about the spiritual side of things when people are pushed to the limit with their faith, or relapsed faith. Again, this is the book that gives you insights to human nature, how when faced with the infinite end of our life as we know it, we each fight in different ways, we each hold different values, how it hinders or helps build relationship with people we never thought we could have assissiation with previous to the 'event'.
As said before, I loathe to reveal plots, there are twists so I think it's wrong to mar peoples enjoyment to read a good book.