Today we're happy to welcome Spencer Blohm to I'd So Rather Be Reading. Spencer is a long-time fan of Dean Koontz. He's a freelance entertainment/pop culture blogger from Chicago who loves to read and watch movies (thus his interest in film adaptations of books). Welcome, Spencer!
Love him or hate him, Dean Koontz is one of the world’s highest earning living writers. Throughout the course of his career, he’s written 100 books, with 13 bestsellers to his credit. All in all, he’s sold about 400 million copies of his books, which have been published in 38 different languages.
To what does he attribute his prolific career? Persistence. “The imagination is a muscle, partly,” Koontz once said in an interview with CBS. “The more you use it, the easier it becomes.”
Koontz certainly isn’t without his detractors though. He’s been chided by other high profile authors (including Stephen King) and he has also been the source of ridicule on cartoon shows like Family Guy. But looking at all of the film and television adaptations that have been made of his work, and the sheer volume of his output, it isn’t fair to dismiss Koontz outright.
Part of the problem for would-be Koontz fans is the stigma surrounding his name, plus the fact that he’s one of “those” genre writers who have colossal bodies of work which span decades - and his are completely inconsistent in terms of quality. It must be daunting for unfamiliar readers to pinpoint where to begin, or even which books within the body of work are actually worth reading.
1. Phantoms (1983)
The story follows sisters Jenny and Lisa as they go back to their native Snowfield, a tiny skiing community in Colorado) only to find it in a dystopian, Omega man state. The relatively few bodies that they find have all been horrifically mangled. Things get even stranger once the girls manage to recruit the help of governmental investigators, who discover the name “Timothy Flyte” scribbled on the mirror of a victim. Flyte, it turns out, is a scholar with a keen interest in esoteric and morbid things, and has published extensively on the subject of mass disappearances which have leveled communities all over the globe throughout human history. It is revealed that an ancient, Lovecraftian beast is to blame - perhaps the same beast who devoured the dinosaurs and the Mayans! The book was adapted into the feature film Phantoms (1998) starring the late Peter O’Toole and Ben Affleck and, to be polite, let’s say that the film didn’t quite do the book justice.
2. Strangers (1986)
This novel is about a group of six strangers who, inexplicably, find themselves suffering from strange nightmares and persistent anxiety. Through a series of bizarre messages, they all meet at hotel in a remote part of Nevada, and deduce that they had all met at this location before. They begin to believe that some sort of paranormal activity occurred during their stay at the hotel, but unfortunately no one has a clear memory of their stay. They begin to suspect that extraterrestrial lifeforms, and some sort of brainwashing, took place. It has one of the best twists in any Koontz novel, and the book is truly engaging on the whole.
3. Lightning (1988)
Laura Shane has a guardian angel, but hardly in the conventional sense. An enigmatic blond stranger repeatedly saves Laura’s life. At first, he prevents a drunken doctor from delivering her as a baby, but he doesn’t manage to save Laura’s mother, who dies in the hospital giving birth. Years later, he intervenes when Laura’s father’s store is broken into by a man who attempts to rob the family. When Laura’s father dies shortly after the attempted robbery, Laura is sent away to an orphanage, where she is pursued by a pedophile. Once again, the blond man intervenes. Years down the line, Laura is a respected author, and she comes to understand the bizarre secret of the strange man. He’s a time traveling nazi who...well, I’ll stop right there, lest I spoil any surprises. Suffice it to say, it’s a highly imaginative piece of writing, sure to subvert your expectations.
4. Odd Thomas (2003)
The first installment in a series of novels which introduces the titular Odd Thomas character --a young man who is a cook by profession, and a clairvoyant by nature. We learn at the beginning of the novel that Odd is endowed with mystical powers. Thomas begins communicating with the ghost of a young woman who was brutally raped and murdered, and is led to her assailant. Then, while Odd is cooking he meets a strange looking man accompanied by a gang of strange, demonic entities who only reveal themselves on the brink of catastrophic events. As expected, it’s up to Odd to save the world. It was announced years ago that a film adaptation was in the works, and it was originally slated for release in 2013. After leaving fans in eager anticipation for a year, Odd Thomas will finally be streamable on Direct TV’s website, and as a part of their “video on demand” viewing options. This could easily surpass most of the recent film and tv adaptations of Koontz novels.
5. Watchers (1987)
This novel follows the story of former military special agent Travis Cornell, who, in the midst of an existential crisis, discovers strange life forms in a remote Californian canyon. One is a dog who has been given an exceptionally high, human-like I.Q. (named Einstein by Travis), and another is a violent, monstrous creature called “the Outsider.” It turns out that both critters were the product of bizarre, government sponsored biological experiments. Travis, Einstein, and a young woman the two meet along the way, form a special friendship, and the trio are pursued by government agents who wish to keep their secret experiments under wraps. A series of underwhelming films was inspired by the book, but it’s recommended you don’t bother with any of them. Watchers is an excellent read, and was essentially the book which solidified Koontz’s status as a force to be reckoned with in the world of popular fiction.