Monday, July 10, 2017

More of the same from Koontz

The Silent Corner

Dean Koontz

Publisher: Bantam

Pub Date: June 20, 2017

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

My love/hate experience with Dean Koontz goes all the way back to 1975 when I read Demon Seed. It was a neat science fiction thriller that was fun but not necessarily memorable enough to return to the Koontz name. I did not read another Koontz novel, even though he was quite prolific even then sometimes writing 8 books a year under his own name and pseudonyms, until 1983 with Phantoms. That was the start of my love for the writer and what I consider his golden years with Watchers, Lighting, Midnight, and others setting the framework for the author to be considered the dean (no pun intended) of the mainstream sci fi/horror thriller. But soon, somewhere in the 90s I believe, the books started coming out as off an assembly line. It didn't help that all those novels he wrote earlier under pseudonyms were now being issued under his own name with many of those were rather tepid and straddling several genres. The original horror thriller plots now seemed to be rehashed and formulaic. Even though a gem would occasionally pop like like Odd Thomas, the creativity just wasn't there any more even though the fast paced writing skills were still fresh.

But I kept reading. Let's face it, Koontz is an icon in the field and his worst, like Relentless, still tops a lot of writers' best. The City was the first since Odd Thomas that perked up my ears again. Then Ashley Bell from last year blew me out of the water . Could we be in the midst of a creative revival for the writer?

This year we have The Silent Corner which is billed as the first in a series featuring rogue FBI agent, Jane Hawk. Despite the name of the main protagonist, The Silent Corner doesn't soar. It just hangs there then sinks like a leaky balloon. In this book, Jane Hawk is investigating the death of her husband who committed suicide despite having a happy and satisfying life and no signs of being suicidal until he write a strange suicide note with the line, "I very much need to be dead". Jane cannot accept the verdict of the coroner and investigators and discovers there is a huge splurge in suicide acts throughout the world, many by them by people who previously shown no inclination of being depressed or hopeless. She find herself being hunted down as she discovers a conspiracy that leads straight to high-end citizens with the brains and money needed to reshape the world through any means necessary.

As you can probably see, this is nothing creatively earthshaking. As we read on to the gist of the conspiracy even Koontz wittingly acknowledges the source which led to me to think, "Of course, wasn't that already obvious?". But retracing tried and true plots and giving them new life is what many mainstream thrillers are about. Unfortunately there is little that we can call "life" here. There is one long "Hunt, chase, destroy and repeat" throughout the 400 plus pages with characters just going through their paces. Jane Hawk goes through the motion of a hard-core Jack Reacher styled bad chick without any real humanity in her. We are told repeatedly how he loves her husband and is given a brief glimpse at her son who she leaves with some friends who seem to take the abandonment all in strife but that's it. There is little empathy here as she fight and kill her way through the bad guys.

And that's a problem too. if there is one thing Koontz does better than anyone else it is writing meaty villains. We get a lot of small cogs as they are eliminated one by one but once we meet the supposed big cog we become disappointed and we meet him too late. After all this is a series, we don't want to make the ending too satisfying, right? It messes up the formula for the series.

In order to make the formula work, you need meaningful characters. That is where the brilliant Ashley Bell shines. Here we get plot but no flesh, action but no heart, resolution but no revelation. We've seen this from Koontz before and even then he did it better. I may be unfair . A writer cannot score every time. Koontz has written enough to always consider him one of the major horror and suspense writers. But at this stage ofa prolific and gifted writer, I do wish the auto-pilot wasn't so obvious.

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