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Are you Afraid of the Dark?
The Darkest Evening of the Year - Dean Koontz
Member Name: SWSt
The Darkest Evening of the Year - Dean Koontz
Advantages: Combines dogs, the supernatural and fun characters
Disadvantages: No real surprises in the plot; over-sentimentality for dogs won't appeal to all
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.
The Darkest Evening of the Year
(c) Copyright SWSt 2012
Summary: Definitely one of Koontz's better recent efforts