Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Koontz's best thriller in a decade...or more?

Ashley Bell

By Dean Koontz


Publisher: Bantam

Pub. Date: December 8, 2015

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars


In Dean Koontz’s new thriller, we are introduce to Bibi Blair, a 22 year old author with a critically acclaimed book to her name. Her life looks like it is just getting started until she finds she has a rare and especially vicious form of cancer. There is little to no hope that she can be treated effectively, yet she wakes up in the hospital the next day in total remission. Through an odd form of divinization she discovers the reason she was miraculously cured: to save the life of a teenage girl by the name of Ashley Bell.




With that idea, Dean Koontz takes us into a whirlwind supernatural/science-fiction thriller that we have not seen from him since Watchers or Lightning There are all the usual Koontz gimmicks: sadistic villains, deadly cults, a taste of the paranormal and a resourceful young innocent throw into chaos. . Thankfully though, in this one he kept the noble golden retriever at minimum sweetness level. Yet this is the first time in a very long time that I did not think Koontz was sleep walking through it. The author takes an intriguing premise and makes it complex and befuddling in a good way. Bibi Blair is one of his best characters and one whose full importance and talents are very slowly revealed. The story only spans a few days yet the 600 plus narration plays with it, adding important reveals from her past and vague characters whose roles are not clear until the information is needed. Much of the tension, and pleasure, comes from Bibi’s own thought process as she puts together the clues to her new purpose and evidently the surprise turn near the end.




Recently I reviewed The City and stated it was a change from Koontz’s usual, yet I criticized it for not being different enough. Here we have the author going back to the horror thriller that he made his reputation but finding new ideas and ways to express them that will keep even the stalwart Koontz reader interested. Ashley Bell is not the usual roller coaster ride of a thriller. There are times it feels a bit slow but the attentive reader will realize that those slow parts often provide the most important materials to the mystery. Sometime Koontz’s characters can feel a bit thin but Ashley Bell may be one of his best since Odd Thomas. I have purposely stayed away from revealing anything but the bare bones because every detail is important and knowing it in advance may take some of the pleasure out of the reading.




So what we have in Ashley Bell is Koontz’s most interesting novel since Odd Thomas and one of the his best since Watchers and Lightning. If you have soured toward this prolific writer in the past, it is time to check him out again.

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