As a teenager I was a big fan of Dean R Koontz. I must have read around eight of his novels, which, considering I read so many other authors at the time, was a lot from just one writer of fiction. And then, after buying and reading one particular book, I stopped. The reason for stopping wasn’t because that one book was bad, it’s just that it wasn’t that much different from any of his other books. After all, there are only so many stories one can read about the troubled hero or heroine being chased across the USA by a crazed madman (or the ghost of a crazed madman, or a supernatural being, or a malevolent alien) with nobody to help you but another troubled heroine or hero. Throw in a super-intelligent dog, or a mind-reading child or two, and you have an honest-to-goodness Dean R Koontz novel, circa the mid-1980s or thereabouts.
Given my history with Koontz, when I visited the Community Services Centre here in Taipei to check out their book exchange my eyes were drawn towards ‘The New International Bestseller’ from Dean Koontz (paperback 2001 – unread), One Door Away From Heaven. I thought to myself, "Why not give Dean 'Where’d the R go?' Koontz another chance?" – so I did. At 760 pages I also welcomed another substantial book to get my literary teeth into.
Has Dean Koontz’s novels changed? Well, apart from there being one less ‘R’ in his name on the cover (when did he lose it?) the answer, sad to say, is a resounding “no”. Don’t get me wrong – there’s a place in that best selling book list for Mr Koontz who has found his own niche in the style and contents of his books in much the same way that Dick Francis has with novels set in the world of horse racing, John Grisham has with stories in the legal world, and Michael Crichton has with the ‘humans failing to control nature/science’ scenario.
In some ways I enjoyed the book, although that was probably due, at least partially, to nostalgia for my teenage years. One thing, however, that interested me was Koontz’s use of the English language, and his habit of using obscure (i.e. new to me) words. In this novel Koontz sprinkles these words liberally throughout the 760 pages of the book. I’m convinced that he does it deliberately so the reader thinks “Wow – he must be very clever”. It had the opposite effect on me, and increasingly produced from me the thought “Wow – what a smart arse”. One or two new words I can cope with, but one every other page is a bit too much. Insouciance, docent, ornery, spang, swags, catawampus, gimping, mensch, dander, sussurrous, parsimonious, cataleptic, chignons. See what I mean? Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I didn’t spend enough time in my formative years with the Reader’s Digest’s How To Improve Your Word Power...
Having finished the book another thing really annoyed me, leading to the questions “Who do they get to write the blurb on the back of these books?” and “Do these people actually read the novel first?” I will show you what I mean using the blurb from the back of this book. The corrections to the inaccuracies are in [square brackets].
Micky Bellsong has a history of making wrong choices; she wants to change but can’t find her way. She is living, temporarily, with her aunt in a dusty trailer park on the far edge of the Californian dream. There she meets Leilani Maddoc [Leilani Klonk], a precocious, radiant, dazzlingly charming nine-year-old. Although Leilani’s left leg requires a brace and her left hand is deformed as well, she is buoyant and indomitable’ her great spirit begins to inspire change in Micky. Then the Maddoc family disappears. [they don’t disappear as such, because Micky knows where they have gone, and this doesn’t happen until after two-thirds of the book]
Micky is convinced that Leilani’s life is in danger, and no one seems to care but Micky herself [Micky’s aunt, and Noah Farrell both care]. To the surprise of everyone who knows her [in the book, only her aunt knows her, and it’s not a surprise to her] Micky is for the first time living for something bigger than her own desires, for someone other than herself. She sets out across America to track and find the Maddocs, alone and afraid but increasingly obsessed – and discovers that she has pitted herself against an adversary as fearsome as he is cunning [yawwwn]
The blurb finishes with the astounding claim that the story is “a journey that will forever change everyone who reads it”. I will, at this juncture, refrain from using foul words and obscenities, but the claim is rubbish. How can these people get away with writing a summary that is filled with factual inaccuracies and poppycock claims? As I said, who writes this dross and do they actually read the books? Answers on a postcard or a sealed-down envelope please…