Koontz, Koontz, Koontz and Your Chance to Be a Character in a Book!

Last year I was at the lab making cheery conversation with the phlebotomist, who asked me what I was reading. I told her Odd Thomas, by Dean Koontz. "Oh," she said. "I don't like him. All his books are the same." "Are they?" I asked. "Yes," she said. "All his books are about people with something wrong with them." Well! What could I say to that? I pointed out that reading books about perfect people with perfect lives rarely led to riveting drama but she would have none of my silly sophistry, she knew she didn't want to read about people who were less than whole. But we're different, you and I, we appreciate that the story of the girl who has immense challenges is more interesting than one about a girl whose life is total bliss, so if you come along with me to take a look at some of Mr. Koontz's more recent work, I promise to never do things like refer to him as the Dean of Horror.

The middlemost member of the Quality Time team and I read three books by Mr. Koontz this last week. One Door Away From Heaven, The Taking, and Life Expectancy. They were all entertaining and they were all different which is nice. Sometimes when you read a bunch of books by the same writer all in a row you feel like you could write the next one yourself but not these. One Door Away From Heaven is vintage Koontz thriller, mystery, rocket ride to excitement filled with wacky characters, dangerous situations, philosophical dilemmas and stuff that just plain makes you mad. The Taking is more pure horror, or dark fantasy if you prefer that title. It's dark and mysterious and extremely frightening. It's also a book I could not think my way out of. I couldn't think okay, what would I do? and figure out how to save the characters. This one was beyond me. Life Expectancy is a screwball thriller comedy. I don't think that genre existed five minutes ago; I believe I made it up, but it works just fine for me. It's got supreme goofiness, dames with moxie, heroes who know how to bake, and a family I would like to adopt me. In fact this book is just so appealing I would give it to anyone who was looking for a good, fun read, as long as they didn't mind the fact that it might worry them into indigestion.

One Door Away From Heaven is the story of four intersecting characters. Leilani Klunk, a self described dangerous mutant whose insane stepfather has marked her for death before her tenth birthday, Michelina Bellsong, a woman looking for that moment when you meet someone so special that your life is changed forever and you find redemption, "Curtis Hammond" a boy on the run from ruthless killers who have destroyed his family to stop his mother from spreading her message of hope and glory, and Noah Farel, a detective who has devoted his life to the care of his disabled sister who has to find a new reason for living when his sister is murdered. The book sounds kind of grim when I describe the characters like that but it's not. It's funny and touching and exciting and even though it made me cry, it made me laugh a lot more. Curtis's attempts to socialize are brilliantly done and his genuine confusion when he's so frequently misunderstood is endearing. I first read this book in 2002 but I couldn't remember the answer to the riddle, what is behind the door one door away from heaven, so I picked it up again and I'm very glad I did. It was even better the second time through.

The Taking starts off quietly with some rain and a sleepless night and some coyotes on the porch and a husband screaming in his sleep. Okay by the time the husband is screaming it's not as quiet as it was a few minutes ago but it's still kind of calm compared to what's coming. Soon the world of Molly and Neil Sloan is about to be shattered and changed in a way that they are not equipped to understand. Dead neighbors start to walk, natural cataclysms are occurring all over the globe and Molly must decide how to face the end of the world. Do you do it by getting drunk with your living neighbors or do you do it by fighting and protecting the children who can't protect themselves? If you do choose to protect the children, how do you do it when you don't understand the rules of the new world? I think the most important thing I can tell you about this book is that if you have speck of empathy or a mite of imagination don't start reading it at two am or you'll be up all night and you won’t be able to get anything done the next day.

One of the really odd things I see people say over and over about a book is that it is a real roller coaster ride. I have never figured out how that is meant to be a compliment. A roller coaster goes up and down and you know what is going to happen before it happens. You can see the ginormous hill looming up before you and you pretty much know how long it will take before your stomach drops out from under you. The rush doesn't last terribly long and then you're done. But a good book doesn't broadcast its hills and valleys. It doesn't warn you that something awful is coming and you have no way of knowing how long you're going to be panting and chewing your nails before you know your characters have survived, or not, so a book is much better than a roller coaster. But when I read Life Expectancy I finally figured out what all those people mean with they say it and I decided this book is like a dark roller ride, like the Pirates of the Caribbean ride amped up to the nth degree. You don't know when those drops are coming because you can't see them. All you know is that when you open the book you've got lots of excitement and fun ahead of you and you're going to experience fear and anxiety when the author decrees it, not when you can see it coming. Life Expectancy is the story of Jimmy Tock who is living with a peculiar legacy from his grandfather, Josef. As Jimmy is being born Josef is dying but in his last few minutes he has a vision and warns Jimmy's father of "five terrible days" that will occur in baby Jimmy's life. He also predicts the exact time the baby will be born, his birth weight and that the baby will have syndactyly. When those more mundane predictions prove accurate the family set themselves to guard Jimmy from the terrible days. They may be terrible but they make for terrific reading. We really enjoyed this book because it has a healthy infusion of humor to counterbalance the dread. This is a dark and funny ride we can't recommend enough.

Coming in September (more proof that September 2005 will be the coolest month ever) are some chances for you to be in a book by a writer that you love and raise money for free speech protection via the First Amendment Project. The details and everything you need to know can be found here. The auctions run from September 1 - 25 and 100% of the proceeds go straight to FAP.

Who are these alleged writers you love you ask? Stephen King (The Dark Tower) is auctioning off the chance to be in a violent piece of work called Cell. It's got zombies and it could have you! Neil Gaiman (Anansi Boys, Sandman) will put your name (or the name of someone you love) on a gravestone in his forthcoming book The Graveyard Book. John Grisham (The Broker, The Client) will name a fictional character after you for a book he expects to publish in 2007 or 2008. He says he will portray your character in a good light. I'd rather be a zombie or in Mr. Gaiman's graveyard but that's just me. Amy Tan (The Joy Luck Club, The Bonesetter's Daughter) is offering much the same deal, a character in a book she'll publish in 2007-2008. I'll talk about other authors in the coming weeks but you shouldn't wait for me, you should go exploring for yourself. After all it's never too early to start your holiday shopping and what says Christmas like telling your dearly beloved that they're going to be in a zombie book?