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Twilight Eyes - Dean Koontz

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      20.02.2012 16:15
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      Comfortably familiar, but sufficiently different

      At one time, I read lots of Dean Koontz titles in fairly quick succession. After a while, though, I got a little fed up with them as they started to become very similar. Whilst he's no longer an author I read religiously, I still pick up one of his books from time to time and find them enjoyable reads which carefully blend suspense with a kind of low-level horror.

      What attracted me to Twilight Eyes initially was that it offered something a little different. Set in a circus, it follows the dangerous quest of Carl "Slim" Mackenzie, a young man cursed with a terrible gift. He has telepathic powers which allow him to know when a terrible event is going to occur. He is also able to see that such events are deliberately caused by people who appear to be human, but are some sort of hideous, other race that hates humanity.

      At first glance, it might not appear that this plot is particularly complicated or even that original (the idea of some alien race masquerading as humans whilst plotting their downfall is straight out of 50s sci-fi such as Invasion of the Body Snatchers). Just sticking to this basic idea might have made Twilight Eyes feel slightly derivative, but Koontz recognises this and introduces additional elements to embellish the basic concept. New ideas and plot developments are added on a regular basis to keep the reader interested and giving the book a greater depth than you might expect from something which lazily labelled as "horror".

      This is not a horror book in the usual sense. Whilst there might be monsters and acts of violence, it is a tense thriller; a traditional tale of good vs. evil; a story of a lone hero battling against the odds. It incorporates a lot of different elements and ideas from across the story-telling spectrum. In many ways it reminded me of Stephen King's "It" in the way that it slowly builds an sense of eerie tension that keeps the reader wound tightly, wondering what will happen next.

      This strong plot is complemented by some genuinely impressive writing. Despite the somewhat fantastical occurrences, Koontz roots his adventure firmly in the real world, creating a highly believable version of America, populated with plausible characters. The main characters are also well realised. Despite the intense danger they are in for much of the book, you find yourself wanting to join them in their deadly crusade. By turn, they are funny, dangerous, generous, deadly and immensely likeable.

      Koontz even finds time to muse on other, deeper issues connected with the plot and to ask questions of the reader - without slowing the pace of the main narrative down. There are several musings on religion, the nature of humanity and other deep subjects. Nor are these idle musings introduced to show how "clever" the author is; rather they are a key part of the book, helping you to gain a deeper understanding of all the characters - good and bad.

      It's true that the plot sometimes relies too much on unlikely coincidences or unlikely conversations to solve a problem or get out of a tight situation. It's probably also fair to say that some of the plot exposition and back-story to the book's monsters is rather fantastical. Yet once again, it demonstrates both the quality of the writing and the depth of imagination that you are at least able to swallow these more fantastical elements without them spoiling the book.

      More importantly, whilst the characters might not always act as you might expect, they do act in a way which is internally consistent. Having got to know the characters, you understand the rules or outlook on life which governs their actions and, whilst they might not do what you would, they don't do anything which is at odds with their established character.

      This combination of a strong, slightly different plot and quirky, fund characters makes Twilight Eyes a real page-turner and you can't wait to get to the end to find out how it all ends or which of the characters survive.

      It even manages to avoid one of my most common complaints about horror books: that they often go on for a little bit too long. They reach a sensible stopping point... and then keep going (this is particularly an issue with Stephen King's works). That's not the case here. Even though the book is over 500 pages long, I was gripped almost from the off and stayed that way until the final page had been turned.

      I say "almost from the off" because briefly, I struggled to get into this book. Having read the first 40 pages or so, I got a little impatient- not because nothing was happening (one of the strengths of the book is that it pitches straight into the action), but because it just didn't "speak" to me initially. Perhaps I was just tired when I first started reading it, or perhaps I thought it was just going to be another generic "body snatchers" style thriller. Whatever the reason, though, the feeling didn't last long: once I got into it, though, I couldn't put it down and motored through the remaining 500 pages.

      If you're fed up of traditional horror featuring scary monsters and unlikely, gruesome deaths, then Twilight Eyes can serve you up with something different. It has enough to satisfy horror fans, but it' got a much wider appeal, the tense atmosphere and well-crafted writing making it a stand-out horror-thriller that can be enjoyed by anyone.

      Basic Information
      --------------------------
      Twilight Eyes
      Dean Koontz
      Headline, new edition, 1990
      ISBN: 978-0747235170

      (c) Copyright SWSt 2012

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        22.03.2009 23:39
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        Like that kid in The Sixth Sense, Slim can see things other people can't and the're coming for you!

        This was the first ever Dean Koontz novel I ever read and I can still remember the day I bought it!! Myself and my family had gone to Reedham for a sunday afternoon out walking by the Broads when I was a young teenager and this book was reduced in a little newsagent/ general store by the water. Of course, I persuaded my parents to loan me the money to buy it and thus another Koontz fan was born....

        Slim McKenzie has a gift; he has Twilight Eyes which enable him to see "Goblins". These are monsters that look to all intent and purposes like other humans but are, to Slim's eyes, instead foul creatures that thrive on human misery and despair. Remnants from another generation long, long ago, they exhibit no love for the Human race and are determined to cause them suffering in every way imaginable. Slim is on the run from his past spent hunting down and destroying these creatures and finds his path leads him to a travelling carnival. Hitting the road with his fellow performers, he hopes to escape his destiny but the Goblins are all around him and as they begin to learn about Slim and his abilities to see them, he is forced to take the fight directly to them.

        Many people have dismissed this early Koontz novel as pure dross or as a dire, schlock sci-fi/ horror hybrid that has no place on their shelves but, perhaps because it was the first Koontz I read, this book has always had a bit of an affinity with me and remains one of my favourites. At times, it feels a little like two novels sandwiched together seperated as it is into two parts that don't quite mesh together seamlessly but you so want to continue following the exploits of Slim that, as a fan, you don't really notice and if you do, you don't really mind. A great plot, sublime characters and plenty of sinister sequences that leave you on the edge of your seat with tension, this novel has it all and carries a real sense of hidden terror almost as an undercurrent of the variety not felt scince Invasion Of The Body Snatchers.

        With it's hidden enemy that only Slim can see, plenty of modern comparisons can be drawn with the Noughties' infamous War On Terror.... or WOT??!!?? as it is better known. In this day and age, we have been lead to believe in the threat of Terrorism on every corner with invisible fundamental muslims waiting to blow us up on every street disguised as our neighbours and local friendly shop-keepers, and this book plays on that kind of fear; the fear of that which ordinary people like you and I are unable to recognise but which apparently lurks just below our range of sight. True, this is very early Koontz and yes, he has written more complex and better written books in his extensive career, but as far as his earlier novels go, this is certainly up there with his top efforts and I defy anybody to tell me any different.....

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          13.10.2006 12:23
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          For Koontz completeists only

          Imagine a person you have just met is not exactly as they seem. Something seems a bit off about them, a feeling or a smell. To the outside world they project themselves as the friendly neighbour or forthright cop, but they may, in fact, be a demon. Slim Mackenzie was given a ‘gift’ as a child; the ability to see these demons in human form. It takes him a few years to realise that these demons are intent on evil and feed off the suffering of others; causing accidents to happen or capturing unwanted people and torturing them to death.

          After Slim’s father is killed he sees that it was his Uncle who was the murderer and is in fact one of these demons. Now Slim is on the run as he has stabbed his uncle to death and must escape from the police. He ends up working on a carnival with other people forced out from ‘normal’ society. Here is safe as the carnies protect their own but this is only temporary as the Carnival visits a town populated almost entirely by the demons known as Goblins. Why does this nest exist? Can Slim just ignore it or will he descend deep underground to reveal the truth behind Goblin kind?

          As you can tell the storyline being ‘Twilight Eyes’ is somewhat far fetched and you have to be willing to suspend your disbelief to truly enjoy the book. Any deep thought into the characters’ motives or the reasoning behind what the Goblins do will just ruin the book for you.

          The character of Slim is decent enough. He is 17 but has lived the life of a much older man taking it upon himself to fight Goblins when he sees them. Koontz describes a lot of what Slim is thinking and this helps us to understand his motivations of hate and helplessness. We also meet several other interesting characters on the way including dwarfs, sideshow ‘freaks’ and a love interest. The role of Rya, the love interest, is particularly strong as you are never sure of her true nature in the book.

          With well written characters and a decent storyline this book should have everything going for it. However, there are a couple of major flaws that make this book drag on and become distinctly average:

          i) Over description – Koontz once again overpopulates his book with descriptive text. Why use a sentence when you can write 10 pages? There are whole pages that I had to force myself to read as they went into far too much detail.
          ii) Story flaw – horror for me is about the unknown. For the first part of the book the origins of the demons is unknown and gives the book a sense of menace and darkness. Horror is one of the few genres were not describing were evil comes from works as it actually adds to the fear. However, Koontz decides in ‘Twilight Eyes’ to tell us about some ridiculous former society that created Goblins as weapons blah blah blah. The book instantly goes from malevolent horror to slock sci-fi! No!!

          In a more positive note there are a couple of very strong action sequences that are page-turningly thrilling. This is especially apparent near the end of the book as Koontz stops describing things and gets on with the action we crave. The writing style as a whole is decent as Koontz is well versed in the art of horror – if he could just get a stronger editor to reduce the amount of words in his books.

          Finally, I want to bring up the similarities between Slim Mackenzie, who can see Goblins, and another of Koontz’s creation, ‘Odd Thomas’. Odd has appeared in a series of recent books and has the ability to see the dead and events before they happen. He takes it upon himself to alter the future to save lives. Very similar to Slim in many many ways. However, the first Odd Thomas book is an excellent read and the best Koontz book to date. It seems that he reuses similar storylines throughout his career and that a sense of déjà vu will occur as I read through his back catalogue. It has to be noted that Koontz runs very hot and cold, with a few excellent titles but many average to poor – be warned.

          In conclusion ‘Twilight Eyes’ is not a bad book, but not excellent either. The central characters are good and the action superb. However, this good work is undercut by the poor editing and stupid explanation for the origins of the demons known as Goblins. My advice - this book is for Koontz completeists, not first time fans.

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            15.10.2003 15:51
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            Very few of us are blessed with a special gift: the power to heal, second-sight or telepathy but when this talent is possessed, surely it is a precious gift to be cherished and to be grateful for? In the case of Slim MacKenzie, his unusual ability just condemns him to a life of horror. For, living amongst us is another race of creatures. They are a minority within our society but are hidden from the eye of normal humans. Slim has the ability to see them for what they are: hideous, malformed, strong, evil creatures that he has labelled as ?goblins?. Worse than their hidden appearance is their attitude to humans and life. There only pleasure is derived from causing pain, death, suffering and destruction to humans. As a result of his ability Slim leads a lonely and frightening existence. He was forced to run from home after he killed his uncle, who was a goblin and who had been murdering members of Slim?s family. He was forced to abandon friends and relations and go on the run from the police. Wherever he travelled he would come across goblins and would be forever unsettled and fearful. His ability is truly a curse for without his talent he would be able to live life as others do, unaware of the dangers around him and in blissful ignorance. Forewarned may be forearmed but it also opens his eyes to the terrible perils and the stark walking evil that exists within the world. Slim eventually finds a community in which he may fit in and find a new home. He joins a travelling carnival and meets Rya and Joel, both of whom share his visual ability. He falls in love with Rya and together they decide that they cannot ignore the threat that the goblins pose to the human race and they set out on a crusade to fight the creatures and disrupt the goblins plans for destruction. The story itself gets off to an exciting start as Slim arrives at the carnival and is immediately faced with fighting a goblin. After this initial exci
            tement, however, the flow slows slightly as he integrates himself into the carny community. The pace picks up again in the second half of the novel once Slim and Rya set out on their quest to fight goblins. It is certainly worth persevering with the earlier chapters, as in the second half the book becomes very exciting and it is hard to put down as we read with baited breath about the pair?s exploits and as they are rarely far from the threat of a violent death. The villains of the piece, the goblins, are hideous enough to be frightening and their truly evil nature makes them seem even worse. It seems rather unfortunate that Koontz decides to describe these creatures as ?goblins? as this conjures up images from fantasy books of little gnarled old men, which is a far cry indeed from the beasts that appear in this book. However, as long as we accept that the word ?goblin? is just a label that our hero has attached to them for the sake of ease, it is clear that the creatures are truly horrific, almost demonic, and not from the pages of a fluffy fantasy novel. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet ? or, in this case, a goblin yby any other name would be just as horrific! Our heroes encounter a town in which almost all the figures of authority (policemen, council members, court officials etc) are goblins and it is in this arena that the book will climax. The discovery that these hateful creatures are organised and have power over humans is chilling and puts our heroes in deeper danger. The scene is perfectly set for the playing out of a horror novel. Koontz also obviously has a point to make about human nature. We learn that humans had a hand in the creation of these monsters and that they trained them to be hateful and to have the desire to kill and destroy. We begin to view the darker side of humans who are capable of showing cruelty and evil towards each other. Surely these goblins are no worse than us? A
            s the tale progresses Koontz tries to illustrate that humans are a cut above these destructive goblins. Our species can demonstrate love and compassion and, apparently, it is these features that redeem us and make our existence worthwhile. Slim proves these attributes as he would eagerly lay his life on the line to save the woman he loves. Indeed both he and Rya are willing to give up their futures and risk their lives to fight for the good of all mankind. Man?s similarities to the goblins are demonstrated through Joel?s experiences. Joel runs a freak show at the carnival which contains a fat lady, a four armed man and a tattooed woman. He is also an exhibit himself, as he has a terribly deformed head with an orange third eye above his normal pair. He has suffered ridicule throughout his life and it is this that led him to become a carny, as within their community they accept each other, protect each other and outcasts together they unite against the outside world. This very community again shows that humans do have the capacity for love and kindness, unlike the goblins. The book is certainly an exciting read and as our heroes set out to destroy the goblins the pace quickens and the tale crescendos to a thrilling conclusion. Read and enjoy the book and just think ? thank goodness that Koontz didn?t refer to the villains as pixies! OTHER INFO Publisher: W H Allen & Co, Hill Street, London ISBN: 0-352-32019-2 Price: £5.99

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              09.10.2003 22:21
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              • "slow at times"

              I just finishing reading this book and I have to say it isn?t one of my favourite of Dean Koontz books, but it?s still a good book, a little slow It just isn?t as fast paced as his other books. It is a weird book. It tells the story of a man, Slim Mackenzie who has the ability to see what he calls ?goblins?, creatures hiding under human appearance. Slim having this special talent can see through this human façade. The goblins only function in life is to kill humans and so Slim, kills these goblins whenever he can. Slim Mackenzie is both hunter and hunted after killing his Uncle, who turned out to be one of these goblins, he is on the run from the police., so leaving his hometown he arrives at a traveling carnival where he seeks employment with these ?carnies? and falls in love with one of them. Slim also stalks the goblins, which we learn are genetically engineered ?demons? from a prior earth civilization. ( A bit far fetched I know). Slim is a hard edged character with a cynical sense of humour, he is pretty callous and a vicious character, your introduction to him, is where he attempts to sneak up on one of the goblins and put a knife in his back. I wouldn?t say that this book is particularly very scary, gripping yes, bizarre definitely, Not enough to classify it as a horror I would say. It can also be slow at times. I would recommend this book for Adults only because there is a lot of gorey descriptions to deaths and dead bodies. Twilight eyes is a ridiculous story with implausible characters, impossible situations and an unbelievable plot. Thanks for reading

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