Monday, March 3, 2008

Dean Koontz

Odd Thomas
by Dean Koontz
Recommended Age: 16+

Dean Koontz is an author I haven’t delved into. In my mind, I class him with Stephen King – as a horror writer. But a couple of nice readers suggested that I try Odd Thomas. Their description of the book suggested to me that it was at least as much a mystery and a fantasy as a work of horror. So I thought I would give it a try.

Well, come to find out, it really is pretty scary and disturbing. I wouldn’t have made it through the book, probably, if the mystery and fantasy elements hadn’t kept me engaged. Take that as it will – maybe your threshold for being disturbed is higher than mine. Still, I read it, and I appreciate it as a masterpiece of suspense, creepiness, keep-you-guessing mystery, surprise, and emotional punches-in-the-gut.

Odd Thomas is the actual name of the narrator. Odd is his first name, Thomas is his last name. Brought up by the worst parents imaginable, Odd showed a huge talent as a writer when he was in high school. But now, at the age of 20, he prefers to flip hamburgers for a living. He has a soulmate named Stormy Llewellyn, a surrogate father in the local chief of police, and a small circle of friends who know about his secret gift – he sees dead people (walking around like live people, etc.). Elvis, for instance. The victims of brutal murders, for another. They don’t talk to him, or even sing to him. They simply come to him for help, for justice. And the nature of his gift obliges him to help them.

Odd maintains his delicate sanity, in spite of this bizarre gift and the terrifying experiences it has opened to him, in spite of his sicko mother and other adverse influences on his upbringing, by staying within a few miles of Pico Mundo, California – a medium-small town in the sweltering Mojave Desert. Having lived in a very similar town for several years, I feel that I know Pico Mundo – but even if I hadn’t, I would still see it vividly through the way Odd lovingly describes it.

Odd’s relationship with the town’s top cop enables him to play a behind-the-scenes role in solving some gruesome crimes. I think a book about Odd’s psychic sleuthing could have been creepy and exciting enough...but this book goes even farther. A creepy stranger draws Odd’s attention. Swarms of bodachs – shadowy creatures from another world – descend on the town, boding catastrophe and death for many. And after an assassination attempt takes the chief out of commission, Odd has no one to help him stop a mass murder that he knows is about to happen...a crime planned in part by a man whose corpse turns up in Odd’s bathtub...a horror that has haunted Odd’s dreams for years, and which will come true in the next 24 hours unless Odd can stop it. Everyone he knows and loves is in danger, and only the most dangerous among them can help him.

Odd is an appealing narrator, an unconventional hero, a sleuth who wins your heart, and a seer who has big surprises in store for him. If being chilled, shocked, emotionally crushed, and held in agonizing suspense is your kind of magic, you’ll find it in Odd Thomas.

UPDATE: Here is another series I have neglected to follow. Since I reviewed Odd Thomas, it has been followed by two sequels: Forever Odd and Brother Odd. A fourth installment, titled Odd Hours, is due to come out in May.

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