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Monday, November 26, 2007

"The Darkest Evening of the Year" by Dean Koontz

Official Dean Koontz Website
Order “The Darkest Evening of the YearHERE
Read An Excerpt HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s REVIEW of “The Good Guy

I grew up on a farm and as far back as I can remember we always had a dog. Some memories are more precious than others—the super-smart German Shepherd we called Cha-Cha or the very beautiful, very loyal half-Siberian Husky/half-wolf Roosky—but I loved each and every one of them and as a young reader that love extended to literature—“Where the Red Fern Grows”, Jack London’sWhite Fang” & “Call of the Wild”, “Old Yeller”, et cetera. #1 New York Times bestselling author Dean Koontz is also a profound lover of dogs and one of his most endearing trademarks is the frequent use of canines in his books—“Watchers”, “The Taking”, “Fear Nothing/Seize the Night” starring Christopher Snow, “Dark Rivers of the Heart” and “Midnight” immediately come to mind.

Recently, Mr. Koontz and his wife suffered a loss with the passing of their Golden Retriever of nine years Trixie. Trixie was more than just a pet though—she was part of the family as evidenced by her continued presence on the Dean Koontz Website, the Trixie Koontz pen name (Life is Good: Lessons In Joyful Living, Christmas Is Good), the Canine Companions for Independence facility (Oceanside, CA) renamed the Dean, Gerda, and Trixie Koontz Campus, and so on. While Mr. Koontz hopes to one day write a book about Trixie, in a way “The Darkest Evening of the Year”, Dean’s newest novel, already embodies the spirit of Trixie. After all, Mr. Koontz describes Trixie as “sweet, clownish, innocent, mysterious, and startlingly smart”, all attributes shared by the Golden Retriever Nickie in “The Darkest Evening of the Year”. Coincidence…I think not :)

Mr. Koontz’s books are known for their fast starts, but “The Darkest Evening of the Year” takes a little while for the good stuff to get going. It’s after readers are introduced to dog rescuer Amy Redwing and her architect boyfriend Brian McCarthy which includes saving Nickie and a family from an abusive, drunken father that the mundane starts shifting into more suspenseful, uncanny territory—the bizarre emails that Brian receives, the supernatural drawing abilities that Brian suddenly develops, Nickie’s unusual behavior toward Amy and other dogs, the mysterious autistic-like girl Reesa, etc. From there, Mr. Koontz methodically sucks the reader in deeper, introducing an interesting cast of characters—the sociopathic couple Moongirl & Harrow, a private investigator, a hired assassin, Piggy—, hinting at the secrets each of them harbor, and increasing the book’s intensity while venturing further and further into the realm of the extraordinary…

Compared to his other books, Mr. Koontz doesn’t really bring anything new to “The Darkest Evening of the Year”. For instance, you have the male/female protagonists with a remarkable ability for witty banter; villains with unique characteristics—Moongirl only makes love in complete darkness and likes to burn things & people to keep from getting bored, Vernon Lesley’s Second Life is more real to him than his actual one, Billy Pilgrim is an avid reader especially books ‘steeped in irony’, Bobby Onions is a new-school P.I. and thus uses a more ‘updated’ vernacular—; Nickie of course is a smarter-than-normal dog; there’s the disabled children with special abilities; revelations of shocking secrets; themes about faith, love, vengeance & redemption; and various other recognizable Dean Koontz idiosyncrasies. Despite these familiar elements, Mr. Koontz does a good job of mixing & matching creating a book that may be identifiable to readers, especially long-time Koontz fans, but at the same time is still a fresh and fulfilling experience.

Personally, I’ve always enjoyed it more when Mr. Koontz indulges in the fantastical and when you add my love for dogs, “The Darkest Evening of the Year” should have been a surefire winner. Alas, the book just didn’t quite do it for me. As much as I loved Nickie, the powerful nature of the story and its uplifting message, a couple of factors lessened the novel’s emotional impact. One was the characters. Like Mr. Koontz’s last novel (The Good Guy), it was the bad guys that were the most interesting personalities in “The Darkest Evening of the Year” when it should have been Amy & Brian considering the heartwrenching situations they found themselves in. And two, I didn’t really like the way the book was concluded, not the actual events that took place, but the manner in which it was told. It just seemed too abrupt and detached, when I was expecting something much more poignant. Personal complaints aside, what can I say, it’s Dean Koontz! I finished the book in a day, nearly in one sitting, and if you’re a fan of the author, a dog lover, or someone who appreciates a tug-on-the-heartstrings thriller, then I recommend the haunting, magical journey that is “The Darkest Evening of the Year”…

NOTE: For Mr. Koontz’s next release, Odd Thomas fans should be rejoicing as everyone’s favorite ghost-talking, short-order cook returns in the sequel “Odd Hours” (May 20, 2008) followed by the graphic novel “In Odd We Trust” (June 24, 2008). I can’t wait!!!


SQT said...

I go through Dean Koontz spurts. Yeah his writing follows a formula but it can be incredibly entertaining. In fact, I'm tempted to drag out my collection and read a few...

Robert said...

I'm so used to reading at least one Dean Koontz book a year, it's almost become a way of life ;) As long as he keeps producing, I'll keep reading!

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