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Another Of Koontz's "Dog Chronicles" - But A Good Read
The Darkest Evening of the Year - Dean Koontz
Member Name: missrarr
The Darkest Evening of the Year - Dean Koontz
Advantages: Great dogs!
Disadvantages: Repetitive elements taken to the Nth degree
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 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.
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.
Available through most usual mediums, amazon price new £7.19
Summary: An enjoyable read or alone but not the best Koontz