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The Darkest Evening of the Year - Dean Koontz

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Author: Dean Koontz / Genre: Fiction

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      01.10.2012 18:37
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      An enjoyable read or alone but not the best Koontz

      I've reviewed a few books by Dean Koontz in my time here on dooyoo. At times I love this author, and at times I find his tools in executing his stories - his characterisation, his components of the story - to be formulaic, predictable and irritating.

      To be fair, the man turns out a fair amount of books - he is after all one of the most prolific fiction writers in the modern era. There is variety amongst his work and his truly good efforts - such as the Odd series - offer really great characterisation, insight, sensitivity and brilliantly involving prose. However, too often I have picked up one of his books, recognised a set few characteristics, and known that the same things were being reused again.

      So why do I keep reading them? Because when he is good, Koontz is a superb writer. I am not just saying this because, after reading this book, for which I cannot contribute a gold-standard, angels-singing review, I have moved on to another of his, Relentless, in which a book reviewer is a savage killer who targets anyone who dares criticise his opinions - I don't suspect Koontz has enough time to track me down and destroy my life when he has so many ideas forming in his head to turn into books! Seriously, he remains one of my favourite authors, but I did not find this book to be his strongest work and if anything it is one of the strongest examples of his reverting to type I have read yet.

      ***THE PLOT***
      The Darkest Evening Of The Year introduced us to Amy Redwing and her trusty, adoring partner Brian. He, an architect by trade, loves her dearly and would marry her the second she agreed to it. They are lovers, but Amy is carrying scars from her past that she has yet to share with her partner.

      Brian has secrets of his own, from a mis-spent youth. The actions of his reckless earlier self have left him with a cavernous feeling of loss and guilt, one which is sporadically intensified by the actions and will of another.

      We meet these characters as Amy speeds them to the rescue of a golden retriever, Nickie. Her owner, an alcoholic, violent man, has taken against the dog and his family in a drunken rage and the wife of the family called Amy to try to save the dog from the same fate that had once befallen another. Amongst the two children is one who appears mildly autistic, very quiet but massively insightful for her age. As Amy rescues the dog and ultimately the wife and children, it becomes apparent that the child named the dog - because her name had "always" been Nickie.

      Amy realises that she intended to keep Nickie, who joins her existing two golden retrievers. Brian and Amy part to their respective homes after the tiring and emotionally stressful rescue, and Brian finds his artistic talents taking on a strange and inexplicable new medium whilst Amy starts to notice that the behaviour of the dog she has welcomed into her life is stirring memories from her past life - whilst, when he returns home, Brian also finds that there is a message from the part of his past that he cannot erase, control or predict.

      ***SO, IS IT ANY GOOD?***
      Well, I can't say this is my favourite work by Koontz. Yet, puzzlingly, despite being the biggest and most blatant example yet of resorting to a certain set of plot techniques, I also liked this book.

      I would not say Amy Redwing is the strongest character Koontz has ever created. As with most of his characters, she carries a significant past experience that shapes her current existence and actions. But I can't say it is the best execution of that particular writing characteristic, although she is perfectly likeable. She has dedicated her current life to the running of a Golden Retriever rescue operation, to which she is completely committed and from which she has drawn to her a circle of co-workers and friends who are admirable people.

      In this book we do not just see the repeated occurrences of children born either autistic or with another form of mental or physical handicap or, as is often portrayed in Koontz's work, gift. We also see the prevalence of a dog, usually a retriever, influencing, helping and indeed saving human lives. We have the troubled pasts of the characters, the threat of impending doom, the inexplicable madness of evil. We see a supernatural element, a modern-day violence element, a strong female character and a supportive, loving male one. But in this book these are not supportive elements of the story, but the ENTIRE basis for the storyline. The basis here is the dog, it's role in tying these elements together, and the fight between good and evil between the characters as our protagonists are unwittingly drawn into a perilous situation that binds both of their pasts.

      ***MY THOUGHTS***
      As I've said, I liked this book although it is not the author's strongest work. The characters are good in the main although the "bad guys" are poorly explained and their motivations for their means of existence and their actions are not explained at all. Both are clearly mad but there is no depth behind this. Their behaviour is shockingly cruel, heartbreakingly so in one aspect, but as with the rest of this review I can say very little about this plot without giving too much away, which I would hate to do for any potential reader.

      I suppose I would like that Koontz would refresh his writing technique and, having indulged here with his most recognisable handles, moved on to something fresh now. Clearly these recurring aspects of his work have some resonance and meaning to him, and over the years they have contributed to some really amazing, imaginative writing. In a way this book seems to be a celebration of it - it requires some suspension of disbelief, but then that is no new challenge to a regular Koontz reader. This book is touching in some ways, and whilst the characterisation is not his strongest, I did find myself completing the book in full support of our heroes.

      That said, I think that the end of this book is rather quick, belying the emotional investment of the reader in the build up, the degree to which I was surprised by as I hadn't initially thought I would enjoy this as I recognised these familiar plot markers early on. But I did truly come to care, possibly because of the most excruciatingly cruel treatment but the evil element of the cast to one of the most helpless. After reading, I can't help but wonder why Koontz finds such affection and faith in the presence of not just dogs but a certain breed, and I am curious about it, but it clearly has a deep meaning to him. It is a book that, early into the read, I was sure I would not enjoy as much as I would hope, but in actuality elements of this have stuck with me and I found it a good read, although I can't say that I would revisit it. If anything, having completed it, should I read a blurb on a Koontz book that suggests his signature notes will be present, I will put it back on the shelf and wait for something more original to present itself. But, for fans of Koontz's style, you can't ask for more than this.

      ***THE DETAILS***
      Published 2011
      ISBN 978-0007368297
      Available through most usual mediums, amazon price new £7.19

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        03.05.2012 12:55
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        Definitely one of Koontz's better recent efforts

        At some point in the last 20 years, authors who developed a reputation in the "horror" field have slowly moved away from monsters and ghosts and start writing about more psychological terrors and the monsters that lurk in the hearts of most people. It's worked for Stephen King, who has started churning out his best stuff in years and, on the whole, it seems to be working for Dean Koontz too.

        This shift has added a new dimension to the genre and The Darkest Evening of the Year is a fine example of how effective that sort of story can be. Whilst it contains supernatural elements, these are often incidental to the main plot, which instead focuses on how cruel people can be to other people - something far nastier and scarier than any fictional monster could ever be.

        We are first introduced to the main characters - Amy Redwing and her boyfriend Brian - as they confront a drunken and abusive father from whom they are trying to rescue a golden retriever - Amy's personal obsession. Once they have the dog, events start to take a far darker turn as both Amy and Brian are forced to confront dark secrets from their past which they have sought to bury.

        Darkest Evening is a very clever, very readable book. Although it starts off with a fairly dark episode, there is a lightness and humour to the tone that persists throughout. No matter what life throws at them and how dark their past is revealed to be, both Amy and Brian (and Nickie, the rescued dog) are very enjoyable company to be in. The way they interact together - sparking off each other. Swapping banter and laughing and joking makes you feel as though you are amongst friends. When the tone becomes darker, this lighter element prevents the book from ever becoming too heavy or depressing.

        It's also a very well-written and cleverly structured book. It has several layers to it and these are slowly stripped away to reveal more and more about the characters and their deeper motives. Koontz skilfully leaps between the different characters, giving a very different tone and feel to the various sections, without ever making the story feel incoherent or disjointed. The more you find out, the more you realise how cleverly Koontz has constructed the story so that the various sections eventually overlap to form a whole tale which comes together with dramatic effect.

        The story may not be the most complex in the world and, in truth, it contains few surprises. However, it is deeply gripping and satisfying. It was one of those books I had trouble putting down and whilst the story might be inconsequential in the long term, it's a lot of fun whilst you are actually reading it.

        It's very clear that Koontz is a big fan of Golden Retriever dogs (a breed he has included in previous novels) and he writes about them with great fondness, giving all the dogs in the book a very real personality of their own. Dog lovers (and particularly anyone who has ever owned a Golden Retriever) will instantly recognise the sorts of behaviours which Koontz attributes to his pooches, and this helps to ensure that even the dogs are realistic characters in their own right. Of course, if you are not a dog lover, you might find some of this behaviour unlikely but, take out the supernatural elements he attributes to some of the dogs, and Koontz actually describes canine behaviour pretty accurately.

        Even when he gets a little over-sentimental and moralistic (something I normally deplore), it makes sense and is fitting within the context of the book. The ending, in particular, was very effective. Often I am disappointed with the ending to "horror" books. The final confrontation towards which everything has been building is usually either over too quickly, or dragged out too long, whilst the conclusion, which inevitably follows up on the surviving characters, is often wishy-washy and dissatisfying.

        Here, at least, Koontz pitches it perfectly. The finale is exactly the right length and, although the "mop up" introduces an element of sentimentality, it doesn't jar with the tone of the rest of the book. This was one of those books that produced mixed feelings when I closed the final page: I was delighted that I had read such a good book but was also left with a slight sense of melancholy because there was nothing left to read and these characters were gone from my life forever.

        It's honestly hard for me to come up with any reason why you might not like The Darkest Evening of the Year beyond the obvious (you don't like horror and/or Dean Koontz books.) The only other thing I can think of is that if you absolutely hate dogs, you will not like the way dogs are given "human" characteristics and attributes and will feel that this is simply the author getting overly sentimental for a breed of which he is clearly very fond.

        As with any mass market paperback, this novel can now be picked up pretty cheap second hand. This is how I got hold of my copy, but personally I'd have been perfectly happy to have paid the full RRP of £6.99 as this is a book I can see myself reading time and time again.

        Basic Information
        --------------------------
        The Darkest Evening of the Year
        Dean Koontz
        Harper, 2008
        ISBN: 978-0-00-722662-7

        (c) Copyright SWSt 2012

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          09.09.2009 19:54
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          It may not be the best from Koontz, but it's an enjoyable read

          I've just finished reading this book and I'm not entirely sure what to think of it. I've read books by Dean Koontz before and have absolutely loved them, and although I thought this was wonderfully written, the storyline is a little strange to get your head around.

          I came across The Darkest Evening Of The Year in the library and was keen to pick up another Koontz book. This one falls within the crime / mystery genre roughly speaking, but it's different to your average crime novel, and you will perhaps know what I mean if you have read the Odd Thomas books by Koontz. This novel, although a stand-alone book so you needn't have read any of his other works to get into this, retains the sense of mystery and supernatural phenomena that Odd Thomas brought.

          On the front are the words that usually draw me to pick a book up and find out more about it : "The International Bestseller". On the back, "The darkest evening of their lives is approaching..." suggests that mystery enshrines this book.

          Broadly speaking, this book is based on a set of 6 characters. I don't want to give too much away other than what is disclosed in the blurb on the back, but even if I did try to explain the plot it wouldn't make much sense!

          We are introduced to Amy Redwing, a woman who was abandoned as a baby and grew up in the care of nuns. As an adult, she dedicates her life to rescuing dogs and we learn of her love for golden retrievers in particular. We meet Brian, the man with whom she is closest to, and within the first few chapters the two of them have rescued a golden from a brutal owner.

          The dog, who goes by the name Nicky, has something extra special about her. What that specialness is exactly, no one can be sure.

          Throughout the 440 pages we learn the deep, dark secrets hidden by both Amy and Brian as they go on their own adventure together, Nicky in tow. I can't go into what this adventure is exactly, but there's action, mystery and violence which brings the book to life.

          The characters are easy to visualise and imagine due to Koontz's way with words, giving them both detail and flare. Emotive links are made between both the innocents and the evil persons involved, and this was gripping to read.

          The book is easy to read as it's broken down into 3 sections over 66 chapters; each chapter interesting and detailed, with a continuous flow from one to the next.

          It's the storyline itself that I had some issues with, as I'm not one for otherworldly phenomena. That said, the events that unfold aren't so detached that they're entirely unbelievable, and so the twist of strange events gave the novel a unique edge.

          This is a book for those who want to get lost in a clever, quick and detailed journey. Although I don't think it's the best from Koontz, and had a storyline I wasn't too keen on, it nonetheless has the charm of being something I enjoyed reading and would recommend to others.

          RRP £6.99 Amazon £2.09 (Library: Free)

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            17.05.2009 01:45
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            Two people find secrets in their past cannot remain hidden....

            Much as I hate to disagree with my fellow reviewers, I actually really despised this latest offering from someone who is usually a consistently good author. Even when others have strongly criticised Koontz in the past, I have always defended him even with his below-average Frankenstein series which tries to update the classic Shelley tale to a modern age. But this time, I am afraid I have to hang my head in shame for this is a horrible mish-mash of ideas that all hangs around Koontz's apparent obsession with Golden Retrievers.

            Amy is a savior for abused and mistreated canines; she runs a rescue scheme for dogs, often picking them up from their unwelcome home whilst her boyfriend, Brian, an architect, occasionally lends a hand when a bit of muscle is needed. On this night, she goes to a home where a drunk father is threatening to harm his underserving pet and finds herself rescuing a Golden Retriever called Nickie who seems to be much more than she at first appears to be. Nickie almost has a supernatural aura surrounding her and her presence has an astounding affect on both Amy and Brian's immediate lives. Both Amy and Brian have secrets in their past not yet revealed and before long both these past lives are destined to collide. Nickie is simply the catalyst that alerts Amy and Brian both to the fact that something of catastrophic is about to envelop them. But can they understand what fate is trying to tell them before everything goes to hell?

            All the way through this novel, from the opening pages onwards, there is a real sense of randomness running through the book that only comes together at the end. We are introduced to all manner of characters but how they interconnect remains a constant mystery which left me, the reader, very perplexed as to what exactly Koontz was trying to say until the big pay-off at the end. But that pay-off almost doesn't feel worth the wait and, for the first time, I actually considerd giving up on a Koontz novel; something that is a real rarity to me as a huge fan of this writer. As disappointed as I was with novels Demonseed, Funhouse, House Of Thunder or Icebound, still I haver dis-liked a Koontz novel this badly before. As I said at the beginning of this review, the whole thing to me just felt like a mish-mash of ideas that never really gelled. The characters all, without fail, felt vacuous and I felt no empathy towards anyone, not even those whom the reader is supposed to be rooting for, so that ultimately I began to lose interest even in how things would be resolved. There are similar themes here to those in Lightning but whilst Lightning was inspired this is simply a re-hash of concepts seen by long-time Koontz fans many times before done bolder and much, much better! Anyone expecting another Watchers when Nickie the dog reveals herself to be more intelligent than her species gives her credit for, will be sorely disappointed. Nickie is no Einstein and this is no classic Koontz but a sign that maybe he needs to think about how many novels he churns out as though on a production line. I mean seriously- does Koontz get some kind of a bonus for so many books released in a year? If so, it's a good job he doesn't get paid for quality over quantity as, with this book, it almost feels as though Koontz should be paying us to read it and not vice versa!!

            I am going to keep this book if only to keep my collection of Koontz published works complete but I very much doubt as to whether or not I will be reading this again or that my opinion will change....After feeling disappointed with the last Odd Thomas book too, I only hope that he is going through a phase and that the next novel sees a long-awaited return to form!!

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              21.01.2009 23:36
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              An interesting supernatural thriller

              Dean Koontz is a very well-respected author of many bestselling titles. The Darkest Evening of the Year is a psychological, supernatural thriller of 440 pages.


              Plot

              This story is follows Amy Redwing, who runs a dog rescue charity, and her architect boyfriend Brian McCarthy, as their pasts begin to catch up with them. Dark secrets are revealed and their relationship and their sanity is put to the test as they struggle to deal with everything that is thrown at them.


              My thoughts

              This story is quite fast-paced, you don't have to wait long for it to get going, so it does keep your interest from the start. It's well written throughout, though nothing exceptional about it and nothing about Koontz's writing style really stands out for me. The characters are well rounded without the author going into too much detail, and you learn more about each one as the story unfolds, so there's always something to keep you reading on. Probably the only bad thing I have to say about this book is that, apart from something that happens very early on in the book, there wasn't one plot 'twist' that I hadn't already anticipated. But despite being rather predictable, it was still an interesting read. Not gripping, 'cant put it down' writing, but a good enough way to spend a few hours.


              Summary

              This is an interesting, though quite predictable story, by a well known and well respected author. Not essential reading, but a good read nonetheless.

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              21.07.2008 19:10
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              His usual high standard, read it and see!

              I have just, literally moments ago, finished reading this book by Dean Koontz who I have to say is one of my favourite authors. I bought it on Amazon for about £3 a while back and have put off reading it as I worried it might stray from Dean Koontz's usual "no animals were harmed in the writing of this book" formula.

              At 440 pages long it isn't his usual length but kept me busy for a couple of days. I read really quickly though and Dean would need to write 5-6 books a week to keep me in stock! It is dedicated to his wife Gerda and her "golden daughter" who was obviously of the furry dog variety as the book is about Amy Redwing and her boyfriend Brian McCarthy who rescue Golden Retrievers.

              I worried and fretted for a while that some harm would befall the rescue centre this is about and I'm a dedicated animal lover so that would have disturbed me greatly and not in a "wow what a thrilling read" kind of way. However, yesterday I decided to bite the bullet and hope Dean Koontz remained true to form. Anyone with the same anxiety, don't worry, read it, he does not let us down and slip into Stephen King's gratuitous animal slaying.

              I won't give away too much of the plot but Amy runs a golden retriever rescue centre and has a dark past revealed as we read, Brian is her partner who also harbours a secret and in usual clever Koontz style the secrets end up being woven together to bring us the climax.

              If you are an animal lover this book tugs at the heart-strings more so than any other Dean Koontz has ever written. With his uncanny insight and affinity to dogs that is present in some of his other works he masterfully holds your full attention and at a couple of places could easily reduce you to tears. I think with each passing book Dean Koontz displays a deeper melancholy but manages not to let this overshadow the story.

              With the 2 main characters, all the dogs, hitmen, private detectives, Moongirl, Harrow and Piggy this is a compelling read. A very tight, fast-paced story.

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