Publication Date: 15 Aug 1991
Paperback: 608 pages
Publisher: Headline; New Ed edition (15 Aug 1991)
Rachael Leben’s violently possessive ex-husband, Eric, hideously mangled in a freak accident, is dead. But his body has disappeared from the city morgue.
Now someone, or something, is watching Rachael. Calling her. Stalking her. And though no one will believe her, she knows who it is; that his walking corpse is a grotesque mockery of life, and his brilliant, warped mind, once again ‘alive’, is seething with jealous rage, seeking an unspeakable revenge.
This book is another “once-you-start-you-can’t-put-it-down” exhilarating reading experience. Dean Koontz has not yet disappointed.
“Shadowfires” has the most interesting opening chapter of all Koontz books. It reads like a self-contained short story and always makes me wonder whether Koontz wrote it first, then developed it into a longer tale much later.
The book begins by introducing the reader to Rachael Leben and her husband, Dr. Eric Leben, a former University of California scientist and professor who is a partner in a genetic engineering research firm. This high profile California couple is in the midst of a divorce after seven years of marriage. They seem like an above average couple whose divorce has all the qualities of turning into a nasty public media type circus event. Right after the meeting at Eric’s lawyer’s office, he hurls accusations at Rachael in an attempt to gain control over the situation as his masculinity and ego were totally crushed, humiliated when Rachael failed to press for everything she is entitled to under California divorce laws. After this highly charged emotional confrontation, Eric dashed across the street and in a freak accident was hit by a garbage truck. It hurled him in the air like a bomb blast and caused severe head injuries, from all indications killing him instantly. The paramedics could not revive him.
As if witnessing this event was not enough, the following day, Rachael receives a phone call from the Medical Examiner’s office where she learns Eric’s body had disappeared. After separating from Eric, Rachael had developed a friendship with Benny Lee Shadway, a highly successful real estate developer who was her sole emotional comfort during this horrible ordeal. He noticed she was paranoid and behaving oddly which he initially attributed to witnessing her husband’s accident but as time progressed he was to learn her behavior was based on more than his disappearance and death. Rachael starts carrying a gun with her whenever she goes out, she keeps the curtains of her home closed all the time. She is obviously afraid but can not articulate from what …
Dean Koontz supplies major clues throughout the book to gradually build up the suspense and the plot as the disappearance of Eric becomes connected to factors related to his genetic research. The manner in which Koontz ties together the story, plot and the unusual occurrences and events within the book is a mind-boggling but thoroughly satisfying reading experience. As an author Koontz knows just how to reveal more and more personal details about the life and background of each character to create a better understanding of their behavior and viewpoint. Obviously, the reader is free to loath, love, and cheer for specific protagonists as he masterfully and skillfully unravels the murder mystery. Dean Koontz has become my favorite author of this genre.
The characters are still so close to those of other novels they fail in coming over as completely fresh and unique. Rachael Leben is almost the twin sister of Laura McCaffrey in “The Door to December”, while Ben Shadway could be a distant cousin of Travis Cornell of “Watchers” fame. Both share a military background and even have a career in real-estate!
I liked all the side characters too, good and bad. Even the very minor ones, like the Jesus lecturing truck driver and Easton Solberg, the optimistic college professor, “The Stone” farmer father from Kansas of the runaway girl, all caught my attention and stayed with me. He only graces a few pages, but what a guy! Julio Verdad and Reese “I’m in” Hagerstrom were great “good guy” detective partners. I liked each chapter with them and their loyalty to each other. Verdad saves Reese’s child’s life years ago and earns Reese‘s loyalty without ever demanding it. Verdad‘s compassion for victims is endearing. I liked Reese’s courtship with the Teddy the real estated lady that first reminded him of a stork or a flamingo, that was funny and cute.