I love Dean Koontz’s books because you just never know what his rich imagination is going to come up with…but whatever it is it’s always a huge surprise. This is one of the scariest books that he’s written in all of the years I have had the pleasure of reading his works. Usually there is a suspenseful story with some horror moments thrown in….this one has a dark undertone with both gory and psychological horror from the start to finish.
In Los Angeles, a hot Hollywood director, high on PCP, turns a city street into a fiery apocalypse. Heroic LAPD officer Jack McGarvey is badly wounded and will not walk for months. His wife and his child are left to fend for themselves against both criminals that control an increasingly violent city and the dead director’s cult of fanatic fans.
He was responsible for her. He had sworn an oath to serve and protect the public, and he was old-fashioned enough to take oaths seriously.
As a thirty-two-year-old cop with a wife, a child, and a big mortgage, Jack had no prospects of buying an expensive luxury car, but he didn’t envy the owner of the Lexus. He often remembered his dad’s admonition that envy was mental theft. If you coveted another man’s possessions, Dad said, then you should be willing to take on his responsibilities, heartaches, and troubles along with his money.
For he and Heather this is just another long line of things that have gone wrong for them in LA.
The Department was a closely knit community, especially in this age of social dissolution, but every community was formed of smaller units, of families with shared experiences, mutual needs, similar values and hopes. Regardless of how tightly woven the fabric of the community, each family first protected and cherished its own. Without the intense and all-excluding love of wife for husband, husband for wife, parents for children, and children for parents, there would be no compassion for people in the larger community beyond the home.
In a lonely corner of Montana, Eduardo Fernandez, the father of McGarvey’s murdered partner, witnesses a strange nocturnal sight. The stand of pines outside his house suddenly glows with eerie amber light, and Fernandez senses a watcher in the winter woods. As the seasons change, the very creatures of the forest seem in league with a mysterious presence. Fernandez is caught up in a series of chilling incidents that escalate toward a confrontation that could rob him of his sanity or his life or both.
He still maintained the diary of these events, and in that yellow tablet he wrote about the squirrels. He hadn’t the will or the energy to record his experiences in as much detail as he had done at first. He wrote as succinctly as possible without leaving out any pertinent information. After a lifetime of finding journal-keeping too burdensome, he was now unable to stop keeping this one. He was seeking to understand the traveler by writing about it. The traveler…and himself.
“I think you’re going slow, feeling your way, experimenting. This world seems normal enough to those of us born here, but maybe to you it’s one of the weirdest places you’ve ever seen. Could be you’re not too sure of yourself here.”
As events careen out of control, the McGarvey family is drawn to Fernandez’s Montana ranch. They can’t just handle the big city anymore and the news of death and destruction seem to follow them everywhere.
He was reading the daily newspaper too closely, brooding about current events too deeply, and spending far too much time watching television news. Wars, genocide, riots, terrorist attacks, political bombings, gang wars, drive-by shootings, child molestations, serial killers on the loose, carjackings, ecological doomsday scenarios, a young convenience-store clerk shot in the head for the lousy fifty bucks and change in his cash-register drawer, rapes and stabbings and strangulations. He knew modern life was more than this. Goodwill still existed, and good deeds were still done. But the media focused on the grimmest aspects of every issue, and so did Jack.
In that isolated place they discover their destiny in a terrifying and fiercely suspenseful encounter with a hostile, utterly ruthless, and enigmatic enemy, from which neither the living nor the dead are safe.
I liked all of the characters very much. I have to say though that I didn’t really get Eduardo though. Maybe because my first response to something that freaks me out is to get the hell out as fast as possible. His reasoning for staying and trying to understand what was going on felt a bit false to me as a reader. I think Koontz wanted to keep him there for the story purposes which is fine. But trying to have him handwave it away due to this and him being a hermit, not being believed, felt wrong somehow.
Another character that felt a bit off to me was the character of Toby. He is eight. He also swore around his parents and I almost fell over at that one. Believe me when I say that my parents would have had soap so fast in my mouth it would not have been funny. He also seemed older than his years, though you can explain that by what has happened in his own family, and the fights he endures after his father is shot. So I got it. At least Koontz resisted the urge to have him older than his years and somehow be a super genius (yeah one of these days I am going to do an entire Koontz read and you it will not be pretty).
The writing was great. Koontz can turn a sentence and can instil fear in you in just a few short words. The characters are a bit bland as almost all of Koontz’s creations – we have the standard ideal male, heroic and faithful, the strong, supportive female and an innocent child. The dialogue is just as cardboard as the characters, and is pretty much Koontz’s standard witty banter – because according to Dean all couples do nothing but share crappy witticism 24/7. Part two in Montana is more interesting than the first bit, but is still loaded with much unnecessary exposition, meaning the page long descriptions of guns. Because apparently the best way to fight an adversary whom you haven’t seen is to stock your home with guns of all sorts and hope for the best – Michael Bay would have a blast filming this. But don’t you worry; after learning all about weapons our heroes posses the adversary of course will be defeated (it’s a Dean Koontz book, seriously, what did you expect?) with a help from totally random character who rushes to help our heroes without any sort of doubt or hesitation whatsoever. Doh! Not that the adversary is particularly interesting in any way.