Tuesday, November 29, 2011

To read Dean Koontz or not to read Dean Koontz, that is the question

Ahhh, the tease that is Dean Koontz.  A new book comes out every year, and after serious consideration about whether or not I think I will enjoy it based on the description, I almost always buy it.  It may take years, but I always get it.   But why the hesitation? 

Because of huge, relatively recent disappointments.  Like The Good Guy and the Husband and My Heart Belongs to You.  And Relentless.  I wish I could scrub that book from my memory.  They all started with such promise.  And they all fizzled.  Bad.  Some worse than others.  One in particular crash and burned.

Now, I know that he, like King, will never reach his pinnacle again.  I doubt we will see such masterpieces as Midnight and Whispers and Phantoms again.  I don't know if it is a lack of interest in writing such epic stories, or his simple enjoyment in writing shorter works.  Whatever the reason, it doesn't mean that Koontz can not still write fun, engaging books.  And that is why I comes always come back.  Because for every crappy The Good Guy, there is a fun romp like Life Expectancy.  For every dull The Husband, there is a truly frightful The Taking.

And there is always Odd Thomas.  And while the newer installments have not been as good as the first book, they always keep me entertained.

Now, why bring this up now?  Because I just finished Breathless.  And it left me... well, definitely not breathless.  Or amazed.  Or even satisfied.  Disappointed, I guess.

I'm not going to go into depth on the story.  I still don't even understand the need for half the characters or side plots in this damn book, except to draw it out and make it longer!  It started out with potential.  The first several plot threads grabbed my interest and kept me rapt.  I want to see how everything was connected, how all of the characters would be drawn together.  But they never did get pulled together, and in retrospect, half the story seems... pointless.  Maybe it's me.  Maybe I missed something vital that would have connected the dots.  Maybe I'm just not smart enough.   But maybe Koontz tried too hard to be existential and just lost me along the way.
Every book Koontz writes has some includes some amount of philosophy.  He likes to wax poetically.  He loves to explore the philosophical beliefs of his characters.  And he likes to wonder about the nature of the universe.  But sometimes he just goes too far.  I love learning about what makes his characters tick, but I'll be blunt: I enjoy reading his stories about murderers more than I like reading his books about more esoteric topics.
Breathless was fun at the beginning, when I thought all of the characters were destined for a final confrontation.  But that confrontation never happened, and Koontz spent the last ten pages unsatisfactorily wrapping up some of the side stories and rambling about the mysteries of the universe.  I was bored.  And you know what?  I just didn't care.  And that's probably the worst feeling to evoke in a reader.


I would rather one of my readers HATE my book rather than not care.  Because to hate something, you need to feel something.  To hate, you need an emotional connection to the characters and the action.  To have an apathetic reader means that you failed to connect at all.


There was a reason I waited a couple of years before I read this.  Just the description made me think I wasn't going to like.  But I'm a sucker for Koontz, so I read it. 

I hope "What the Night Knows" is better- it's sitting downstairs now.  I'll get to it after I finish Simmons' Song of Kali.  And I'm looking forward to 77 Shadow Street and Odd Apocalypse.  Hopefully they will be more fulfilling


But, unfortunately, with Koontz these days, you never know.

I don't mean to beat up on the man; he has provided me with countless hours of entertainment over the years.  Sometimes I just wonder if he needs to be run over by a van to kick his ass into gear so he writes consistently great thrillers again.


  1. Whispers! Fabulous novel. I am still reading my way through older Koontz. I find his stuff to be such a strange mix of sentimentalism and perversity. He writes villains like no one else, but his good guys are...well, sometimes they are golden retrievers, the vanilla wafers of the world of dogs.

    For my two cents, I am enjoying recent King more and more. Under the Dome was a huge achievement.

  2. You've pretty much captured my thoughts on Koontz. I notice, these days, I do not list him among my favorite authors ... even though I used to enthusiastically recommend his work.

  3. Koontz's old stuff is much better than his neer stuff. Besides the classics, Door to December was excellent, as were Dark Rivers of the Heart and Shadowfires. But when the new millenium came, the good books (like The Taking and Life Expectancy)are few and far between. The new Frankenstin series was fair, not spectacular. Odd Thomas can be hit or miss.

    As for King, he really hit a lull with the spousal abuse quartet (Gerald's Game, Rose Madder, Insomnia andDolores Claiborne) and with Dream Catcher... but ever since he got hit by the van, he is better. I LOVED Duma Key. Absolutely loved it. Liked Cell and From a Buick 8 (hich really captured the writing of King from the early years)

    But Koontz, he will always be my one of my favorite auhors because of what he has written. But I am much more wary about what I recommend by him.

  4. Something happened to Koontz in the 90's. He got therapy, had a life altering experience? Something happened to make him want to end his book on an uplifting note. I absolutely hate it! I would buy his books sight unseen the day they came out. I searched out all his pseudonyms. I could spot his books by title and first paragraph.
    How disappointed I was when suddenly his books were full of hope. Doesn't that sound sick?