“I know you’re smart, clear-thinking, free of political dogma, and without envy. If I’m not safe with you, then I’m safe nowhere except alone in a room.”
If a man would tell me this, I would be definitely going for drinks later on with him.
Enter the world of DotCom billionaire Ryan Perry and his extraordinary story of paranoia and mistrust and a stalker that wants his heart. Literally.
Only Dean Koontz can bring such lyricism reminiscent of Edgar Allan Poe into a story of love and mistrust. All the elements are here – the ominous rapping, the girl returned from the dead to torment the writer and the sea which seems to have a life of its own.
The water rose as though with conscious intention, with malice. Clinging to his board, Ryan slid down the hunchbacked swell into the wide trough between waves. Irrationally, he worried that the trough would become a trench, the trench a vortex. He feared that he would be whirled down into drowning depths.
The book deals mostly with fear and how we behave in its face. Ryan wants to live without Fear. But when his hearts begins to fail and he is suspected of being poisoned, fear seems to show its ugly head all around him.
Ryan was surprised to hear himself say, “I trust your skill, Dr. Gupta, but I’m still afraid.”
In business, Ryan had never expressed uncertainty, let alone fear. He allowed no one to see any weakness in him.
“From the day we’re born, Ryan, we should all be afraid, but not of dying.”
In his rising paranoia he suspects his house staff and then his lover Samantha. He hears whispers and he feels people looking at him. It might be his imagination but what if he’s right and they are after his money? He finds out that Samantha had an identical twin, Teresa, who died young after a car crash.
Some said the intense bond between identicals, especially between sisters, could not be broken even by death. A few insisted they still felt the presence of the other, akin to how an amputee often feels sensations in his phantom leg.
When checking out her sister and her estranged mother, he finds clues showing that Samantha’s mother had been following her daughter’s progress through life and knew she was dating him. She was also seeing a very creepy guy who was known to have terminated multiple lives that were hanging by a thread in the hospital, a veritable angel of death.
In this man’s house, Ryan founds a photograph of Samantha’s twin, taken with her eyes taped open after she died.
In contrast to the hair, the tape holding open the sightless eyes was an affront, even a violation.
As loud and irregular as Ryan’s heart had been recently, so now it was to a similar degree quiet and steady, and the house was also quiet, and the night beyond the house, as if every soul in Las Vegas in the same instant fell into a deep sleep or turned to dust, as if every wheel stopped rotating and every noisy machine lost power, as if nocturnal birds could not use their wings or find their allowing no breeze or draft or eddy.
Time froze in tickless clocks. Whether the hush was real or imagined, so extraordinary was the moment that Ryan had the urge to shout and shatter the silence before the world permanently petrified.
He becomes a man obsessed with death, he analyses the picture using digital techniques, looks in the depths of the irises for clues about the murderer. What he doesn’t realize is that he is looking for an explanation for death. Untimely death. He thinks that a spell has been placed on him. That somebody wants him dead.
“The way I read you,” she continued, “you can’t figure out who.” “Who what?” “Who’s going to kill you.”
The detectives who he’s hired are the best in the lot. The woman assigned to him when searching the creep’s house defines very clearly the reasons people commit murders and a taproot – the killer’s ultimate motivation.
“There are only five,” she said. “Lust, envy, anger, avarice, and vengeance.”
“And what is the taproot of violence?” Ryan asked.
“The hatred of truth.”
So he is in a place where everyone is out to get him and get him good.
In the hearts of a voodooist, three moist pieces of a man’s heart—more intimate and therefore more powerful than a few strands of hair—might be used to destroy him in ways singularly horrific.
When a centipedal chill climbed his spine, when his heart accelerated, when a thin sweat prickled along his hairline, Ryan chastised himself for surrendering to unreason. A warrantless suspicion about Sam had metastasized into superstitious nonsense.
He gets himself tested and he checks and re-checks the house for intruders. He keeps hearing a knocking – at the window, in the bathroom, in the closet, upstairs – and he realizes it comes from within him. He asks his blood to be checked for poisons and drugs that might create hallucinations:
Ryan said, “You probably think I’m some kind of paranoid.”
“No, sir. There’s evil in the world, all right. Being aware of it makes you a realist, not a paranoid.” “The idea that someone’s poisoning me or drugging me…”
“You wouldn’t be the first. The enemy isn’t always on the other end of a gun or a bomb. Sometimes he’s very close. Sometimes he looks like us, which makes him almost invisible, and that’s when he’s most dangerous.”
He loves Samantha and he trusts her but he does not trust his doctor any more and he goes to another renowned surgeon who puts him on an international waiting list to find him a compatible donor. When he tells Samantha of his heart condition, she is moved and they decide to make it work together.
She understood that delivering this news was as hard for him as hearing it was devastating to her. Two things they admired in each other were self-sufficiency and a clear-eyed recognition that life was a struggle requiring optimism and confidence.
After 6 months of waiting with the previous doctor, the new one finds him a compatible match within a month and has him flown to China for the transplant. After his transplant, his relationship with Samantha cools off and they don’t see each other as often as before.
Human beings are such knotted, desperate pieces of work—it’s a rare thing to know one completely, to the core, and still love him. Or her.
She wrote a book and he keeps reading it over and over again in order to understand the subtext of her story. Every story well delivered has a subtext, a morale, something to take home with you after the fact.
She had infused the novel with quiet humor, and one of her central subjects proved to be love, as he had intuited when he’d left the long message on her voice mail, before his transplant surgery. Yet in the weave of the narrative were solemn threads, somber threads, and the entire garment she had sewn seemed darker than the materials from which she had made it.
The second part of the novel comes with an unexpected stabbing. A woman carrying Lilys stabs him and demands her heart back. Stealthy, she leaves candy on his pillow in his overly-secure house that says “BE MINE”. Lockets and hearts. Sounds like a Valentine’s declaration if it wasn’t so terribly deadly.
Be to do. Not: Be to be done to. Seize the moment. Act, don’t react. Catch the wave, shoot the curl, skeg it, nail it, don’t be nailed, exist to live, never exist to exist. Existence is an entrance, not an exit. To be or not to be is not the question.
Ryan is forced to revisit all of his demons again and in his chase, he goes back to the creeper’s home just to find that in the same binder where he found Teresa’s death face, there was another staring at him – one he knew well. His nurse.
After making a few calls, he is more disturbed to find out that his nurse that took care of him during the transplant was dead, and had been for a few years. Further investigation gets stopped when the woman who calls herself Lily took his father as a hostage, threatening to kill him.
When confronting this seemingly crazy woman, she finds out that she is entitled for her desire of revenge as her twin had been murdered in a Chinese prison, her heart harvested for a rich American to continue his unworthy life.
According to Samantha, good stories had deep texture. They acquired texture in numerous ways. The texture of character faults and virtues, of intentions contrasted with actions, of personal philosophy shaped by backstory, of mannerisms and habits, of contrasts and contradictions, of mundanities and eccentricities, of points of view and styles of speech.
The texture of vivid visual images, of smells that came off the page, of sounds that resonated in the mind’s ear, of metaphor and simile. She could list dozens of sources for narrative texture.
Ryan couldn’t remember them all. In the texture, you began to see patterns. Some were patterns of plot, which you could think of as like the center lines on a highway and the guardrails at its extremes, there to be sure that you got to your destination without getting lost in byways of meaningless event. Others were patterns of the obvious theme, to give the story purpose that made it meaningful, in part just as the rules of construction for a sonnet gave it meaning, in part just as the truth of human suffering in a blues song made it worth singing.
The most difficult patterns of all to understand, the most intriguing, and usually the most ominous were those that arose from subtext, not from the surface theme but from the implicit meaning of the tale. The less you thought about those patterns, the more you understood them, for they were the patterns of primal truths, some of which the modern mind rejected on a conscious level.
The meaning of the tale was that he was afraid of dying. He had felt that something was wrong with the speed of the transplant proceedings but he went on either way. Because he wanted to live. HE wanted to live. At the expense of an innocent. And what did he do with the extra time he was given on earth? Nothing. He closed himself off in his mansion, fired off his old staff and read Samantha’s book over and over again.
He had squandered his life.
To be or not to be, that is the question
The ending is sweet and unexpected. I won’t blow it now as I have already revealed too much of the story. Read away.