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My self imposed quest to read every Dean Koontz ever written continues with "What the night knows". I've had mixed feelings about his work - some of his books I have found to be exhilarating to read and others have made a little bit of sick pop into my mouth, they have been that annoying. For having to endure "Breathless", I feel that Koontz has rewarded me with "What the night knows". I'll give a brief description of what the story is about, then I'll try to explain why I think this is one of his better books.
Detective John Calvino is investigating the case of a young boy that has killed his entire family in one evening. He's not officially on the case, but chooses to look into it as he was in a similar situation as a young boy and managed to survive by killing the murderer. There are some uncanny similarities between the present day murders and those of John's own family - especially as the present day murderer says an exact phrase to John which were words said between John and the murderer of his family.
John starts to believe that somehow, the spirit of "his" murderer has come back and is responsible for the recent ones. The problem is, there was an original pattern of a few different families being murdered in the original killings, and now John has to try and work out which families are going to be targeted and stop it. Events in his own home also lead John to believe that his own present day family is also being targeted, backed up by the words spoken to John by his original family's killer - a sort of prophecy which John is desperate to prevent being fulfilled.
The main reason I enjoyed this book is because is its modernity - his writing standard and style has vastly improved since the slump of the 90's when he churned out some pretty mediocre, formulaic stories. If I had describe just how his style has improved with What the night knows, I would say that I got the impression he is working on the "less is more" principle with the words he uses - there weren't any long rambling descriptions in this book. Instead, there are sentences that go straight for the jugular and gripped me whilst reading the book - I won't give any examples as I think that they won't have the same impact when read here out of context, but I thought that this simplicity made the meaning of the words a lot sharper and more effective.
I do most of my reading at night, and there were occasions during the time I spent reading this that I was wondering to myself during the day what would happen next and worrying about the members of John's family. I love it when a book has this effect on me. Another good sign of the book's effect on me was that I was lucky enough to be at home whilst reading this (I work away a lot) and there were a couple of times when my children's' night time bumps and noises had me absolutely terrified whilst lying in my own bed as my terrified mind (made so by reading this book!) convinced me that there was a psycho killer on the landing dripping blood onto the carpet from the end of a butcher's knife. I had to do what any hard, no fear kind of guy would do in that situation, I woke up my wife and asked her to have a look!
Joking aside, such was the impact of the writing that at times I was petrified of noises from within my house during the night. I think this was due to the realism of the story - some of you may be screaming at me "but spirits aren't real!" but the writing is so strong, he makes it believable and connects with people who are a father / husband in that he plays on our greatest fear - someone threatening our family and it's up to that husband / father to protect them, and face the risk of dying whilst trying. I still nudged Mrs Dablue out of bed though to investigate a few creaking floorboards!
I would like to see Mr Koontz write more stories about the spirit in this book, that of a character called Alton Turner Blackwood. In a way, Koontz fed this desire of mine with the addition of a short story called "Darkness Under the Sun" which is at the end of "What the night knows". This little bonus story covers Alton Turner Blackwood in the time leading up to the killing spree that culminated in him killing John's family and filled in a few blanks that had risen from the main attraction, What the night knows. I hope this isn't the last we see of this particularly evil baddie. I do like a baddie, it gives an edge to life and when he's at his best, Koontz can bring such a character to life and make me look over my shoulder. He's managed to do this with this book, one of his best in my opinion (and I've read most of his books by now).
I would recommend this to those who like Koontz but have in the past felt let down by some of his stinkers - this one will most likely restore your faith in his quality and it had me doing one of my rare "self high fives" on its completion - a little pat on my own back for reading such a thoroughly enjoyable and chilling story. The RRP is £7.99 for the paperback, and I think it's worth every penny. One of his best, five stars.
Currently available on Amazon for £5.59 brand new
Dean Koontz is another top author of mine, even though the storylines he creates can be a little far-fetched for me at times, me being someone who enjoys thrillers that are more grounded and believable. None the less, What The Night Knows proved to be another quick read, hooking me in and wanting to keep turning the pages.
This novel is a horror thriller with a supernatural twist, but for those that aren't fans of such genres that are a little more abstract, I really wouldn't let that put you off. On the cover we're told that this is 'The International Bestseller' and then further drawn in by the (somewhat unoriginal) tagline 'Evil Never Dies'. We're introduced to Billy Lucas, a guy charged with the murder of a family who is now securely placed in a mental facility. Despite a signed confession, there's one cop, John Calvino, for whom the details don't seem quite right. Although not assigned to the case, he goes unofficially to visit Lucas and what he comes away with is more doubt and paranoia. Sure, Lucas seems mentally unwell so he could be a killer, but nothing about him before the murders suggested any such tendencies. At age 14, could he really be the psychopathic killer the cops and press have made him out to be? Then there are the similarities between what he did and a series of family murders from 20 years ago. John is only all too aware that the recent killings are reminiscent of what murderer Alton Turner Blackwood carried out because his family were victims, him being the only survivor.
Still carrying guilt of having survived when his family did not as a child, and now concerned there may be a copycat killer who's trying to finish Blackwood's job, Calvino has his own family to protect now. His life seems otherwise almost perfect with his artist wife, Nicky, their two girls Minnie and Naomi, and their boy Zach. Thanks to Nicky's art, they are able to live in a very nice house, complete with two helpers who take care of much cleaning and cooking, as well as some tutors for their home-schooled children. Spending the vast majority of time in the house, however, isn't necessarily a good thing as each of the Calvino family start to realise when odd things begin happening. The house has developed a sense of oppressiveness, and something otherworldly seems to be creeping in.
The thoughts going through John's head are ones he can't express, and he knows how crazy they are. Is it possible that the ghost of Blackwood has come back, in the form of any person he takes as he servant, to finish his killing spree? If so, his family will be on that list. With things at the house getting weirder, but with none of the family discussing what's going on, can John get to the truth, find a way to stop more innocent people from dying, and ultimately save his family?
I won't say any more on the premise, but as you can tell, the paranormal phenomena and otherworldly implications mean the plot is a little more abstract than most other crime thrillers. This is the field where Koontz excels in; bringing in something a little different and mixing it seamlessly. It's not the kind of thing I would normally find easy to read because I like storylines that are grounded and believable, and yet I whizzed through this book. Koontz has such a fluid writing style that it's hard to not want to keep reading, and he breathes life in to each and every character to make them alluring and endearing. He also creates colourful scenes that are easy to imagine and visualise as you read, hence the more paranormal stuff is strangely blended in quite well.
I loved the characters in this for their quirky uniqueness, especially when it came to Minnie and Naomi. You do need to let yourself fall in to the book and 'go with the flow' in order to appreciate it and find it more believable, but I found that quite easy to do. And once you do, it's absorbing, with a good pace to keep it interesting and a shroud of mystery to keep it exciting. I thought the atmosphere was gradually built well, keeping me wanting to know what happened next and how things could possibly turn out. Again, this was really thanks to the almost poetic style of Koontz's writing and his ability to bring to life everything in his imagination.
I wasn't quite as keen on the ending, which felt almost rushed and less believable, however I couldn't really think up a better way for it to end given the nature of the premise and where it was heading. I've knocked off a star because some of the premise did get a little convoluted in the sense that it seemed Koontz perhaps wasn't sure how to get characters out of situations, seemingly coming up with solutions as he went along that weren't as believable or well-thought out as they could have been. That was a little disappointing, none the less, for some reason, I still found myself reading and enjoying it, even if it didn't seem to make much practical sense.
Further praise can be found on the back of the book for Koontz, including "Psychologically complex, masterly and satisfying" - New York Times, "A read-at-a-sitting novel - with a terrific final twist" - Observer, and "A terrific pursuit story... clever, up-to-the-minute, and riveting' - Guardian. I would agree with the aforementioned, and add that it's a novel which offers something a little different that sets it apart from the rest.
Overall, this is definitely one I would recommend. Giving the premise the benefit of the doubt if paranormal twists aren't usually your thing, the book has a beautiful allure to reading it from start to finish. With colourful characters and vivid scenes, it's one that I found enjoyable and gripping to get absorbed in to.
442 pages over 50 chapters (hardback)
Paperback selling for £5.59 on Amazon, released 2011