The Imaginary Realms of
Gilbert M. Stack


Dean R. Koontz

Dean R. Koontz


Life Expectancy by Dean Koontz

Dean Koontz knows how to set the stage for a great adventure. Two fathers are in the hospital waiting for their wives to give birth. One is a clown filled with rage who spends the time cursing his father-in-law. The other is a baker who seems to be a very mild-mannered man with a quirky sense of humor. To his misfortune, he also has a father in the hospital who has suffered a terrible stroke. That father sits up suddenly and begins painfully foretelling his (soon to be born) grandson’s future mostly by way of warning the baker of five terrible dates to look out for. Shortly thereafter, the grandfather and the clown’s wife both die. The clown reacts by going into a murderous frenzy and attempts to shoot all the medical personnel in the hospital while escaping with his newborn son. Scene set. A tragic beginning and the expectation that that clown is going to reappear in the life of the baker’s newborn son.

Jump forward a couple of decades and Koontz goes to work showing just how terrible those five days would be. Some of them take huge chunks of the book to narrate. Others happen amazingly quickly. All of them are highly disturbing incidents that keep bringing the two families back together again—and each time we learn that the clown’s family is even more sick and disgusting than we could have believed. It’s an exciting adventure story and I’m glad I read it. It does, however, have one serious drawback. Everyone in the baker’s family (including those who marry in) can’t stop telling very bad jokes and puns. I mean, they never stop, even in the most tense and terrible situations. And it gets really hard to put up with. I’m glad these people can laugh their way through life and in the face of death, but really, cutting out two-thirds of those jokes would have greatly helped this story.

In Alpha Order

The Door to December by Dean Koontz

Dean Koontz has a gift for generating unease in his readers. A woman is awakened in the middle of the night because her ex-husband has been found gruesomely murdered along with two associates. She comes running, because her ex had stolen her then three-year-old daughter when he ran out on her and she’s hoping to find her little girl. What she finds is much worse than even her darkest fears. Her ex has spent the last six years experimenting on their child—forcing her for days into a sensory deprivation tank and electrocuting her as a corrective measure to encourage right thinking. It was a quick and sudden reminder to the reader that humans can be the biggest monster of them all. It also made me wonder if maybe the now nine-year-old girl was the killer who had beaten the men so thoroughly they weren’t recognizable anymore. Then the girl is found a few blocks away, naked, in a daze, and NOT covered in blood as she would have been if she’d killed the men, and things get so much more mysterious.

Even as the girl is put in the hospital, a hit man is hired to murder her and all the while the mysterious killer keeps bludgeoning new people to death. And who was paying for the experiments? The Russians? The Iranians? Or even the U.S. government? The story moves forward at a rapid pace in two general directions. The first is the detective discovering who was involved in harming the girl to begin with. The second is the girl’s mother trying to help her daughter recover from this horror. And all the while something inhuman keeps murdering everyone involved, getting closer and closer to the little girl.

Just what did she unlock when she opened The Door to December? As with so many of Koontz’s novels, you won’t want to put this one down after you start it.

Lightning by Dean Koontz

Who keeps saving Laura Shane’s life and how does her special guardian know she’s in danger? It’s the question that dominates this intense thriller by Dean Koontz. The novel opens with a drunken doctor being called to deliver a baby (Laura) who’s birth is having complications. He stumbled to his car but is prevented from driving to the hospital by a mysterious stranger who ties him up, calls the hospital to tell them the doctor is drunk and not coming, and then waits with the doctor long enough to make certain he can’t escape and get to the hospital anyway. The baby is born alive and well under another doctor’s care and the stranger disappears.

He then continues to intervene in Laura’s life throughout her childhood, preventing her from suffering grievous harm, but not insuring she has a stress free life. As the novel progresses we come to know Laura very well and him somewhat well. It quickly becomes apparent that he is a time traveler who comes from a totalitarian state that he has lost confidence in and is determined to destroy. How Laura fits into his plans is not clear, but he is determined to make certain she survives to adulthood--until his plans are discovered by his superiors and everything goes to hell. Now Laura, her son, and the guardian must evade time traveling hit squads while they figure out how to save the world.

Time travel novels thrive or fail based on their ability to deal satisfactorily with paradox. This novel succeeds on this count. Koontz has created a deft set of time-travel rules that serve his plot well but appear to avoid the contradictions that so many authors fall into. And at the same time, he weaves into his plot some excellent surprises that greatly enhanced my enjoyment of the story. My only real complaint is that in this second reading--decades after my first reading--parts of the second half of the book seemed to drag and I wished it was shorter. That being said, the ending is superb and I enjoyed it thoroughly.

Midnight by Dean Koontz

All is not right in Moonlight Cove—a secret that the reader learns in the first chapter of the book. Strange things are happening that will quickly embrace four strangers—an undercover FBI agent, a twelve year old girl, a crippled Vietnam veteran and a documentary film producer who wants to learn what really happened to her dead sister. The problem looks very different from each person’s perspective. The producer sees a cover up for her sister’s death, the FBI agent sees some sort of law enforcement conspiracy, the vet sees his neighbors acting increasingly strangely, and the young girl watches her parents go dangerously insane before hunting her across the wilderness on the outskirts of town.

These four individuals make a fine vehicle for exploring the problem of the town and beginning to understand just how outrageous they are, but it’s not until we get into the mind of one of the “converted” (the town’s police chief) that the novel really takes off and we start to learn just how crazy things really are. It’s this look from the inside that made this book work for me as the chief begins to understand that the “conversion” he has helped to force on the entire town has gone very badly off plan.

This novel would have been horrific enough if the bad guy’s plan had worked, but as it becomes increasingly clear that the conversion process is out of control, the tension goes through the roof. Midnight is a little slow getting started but by the end of the book you’ll be glad you stuck with it.

Nameless 1 In the Heart of the Fire by Dean Koontz

This is the first story in a new series by Dean Koontz. The key to this story is the absolutely horrible villain—a pedophile who has no moral qualms about murdering entire families in order to satisfy his sick lusts. Since the villain is also the local sheriff he has a lot of power to protect himself with as he pursues his obsessions.

The hero is less interesting—but shouldn’t have been. He’s clearly got an important past that someone has been blocked him from remembering. He has major skills and a lot of backup. He’s confident and capable, but didn’t come across as a very complete person in this story. Of course, it’s the first in a series so I’m sure that Koontz has plans to develop him.

Ultimately this is a vengeance/justice tale. It was fun to watch the nameless hero’s plans unfold and the villain slowly fall apart—fun enough I’ll be reading the next story in the series.

Phantoms by Dean Koontz

I think this is the first Dean Koontz novel I ever read. I was in college and was extremely impressed that unlike so many horror novels, the monster at the end of the book lived up to all the extremely creepy build up. It encouraged me to go out and read several more of his books including such greats as Strangers and Watchers. I think Phantoms is every bit as good as those two.

It opens with a sheriff’s deputy dying mysteriously in the small ski resort of Snowfield, California. Then it switches to a young doctor coming home to Snowfield with her younger sister only to discover that the only people she can find in this town of 500 are mysteriously (and sometimes gruesomely) dead. The phones are out and the electricity is undependable. And the more they try and find out what’s going on (terrorist attack? Strange disease? Poison gas?) the more and more nervous you become for them. The only break in the tension comes when we switch points-of-view to the local county sheriff who is having his own tense confrontation with a suspect whom he believes murdered his family—and that’s not really a break, just a different kind of tension.

When the police finally arrive in Snowfield, the creature stalking the town ups its game and men start dying—or worse yet, disappearing without a trace just like some two-thirds of the residents of Snowfield. The survivors don’t feel they can just leave in case a strange new disease is responsible for the disaster, but we, the reader, are quite certain that it’s a monster, not some nameless bug doing the killing.

As state and national authorities get involved, and the world wakes up to the tragedy, the monster becomes ever more menacing in the buildup to what I think is one of Koontz’s best endings.

Strangers by Dean Koontz

This is one of those novels that will linger in your thoughts for decades and I don’t just mean an image or two. From the very first chapter, Koontz starts cultivating feelings of suspense and ever increasing tension that will have you desperately turning pages, or, if listening to it in audio as I did this time, finding excuses to keep the book playing long after your commute is completed. What is especially impressive for an author who made his reputation in the horror genre is that it’s not even clear that there is going to be a supernatural element for half the book. It opens with a man who finds himself hiding in the closet after apparently sleep walking. He’s sore, he’s frightened, and he has no idea what is going on. But it isn’t until he pulls himself together and sits down at his computer to continue writing his new novel that things get really eerie. He finds that while sleep walking he has typed page after page of just two words: “I’m scared. I’m scared. I’m scared.”

Koontz then shifts focus to a young doctor on her day off who panics and flees in a fugue state when she notices a pair of black gloves. Next we meet a retired marine who is suddenly terrified of the dark and trying desperately to hide his fear from his wife. None of these people have any apparent connection, yet they are all showing evidence of psychological suffering they can’t explain. Later in the book we meet a young child who has become terrified of doctors and a priest whose deep and abiding faith suddenly collapses so that he throws the chalice in the middle of Mass. And the list goes on. What makes this all the more frightening is it is way too easy to imagine yourself suffering these almost normal problems which means that you will enjoy a high level of empathy with each of these very well drawn characters.

As we get deeper into the novel, elements of a vast conspiracy begin to be uncovered with the real possibility of danger to the people trying to find out why they are suffering these bizarre symptoms. This ramps up the tension to a whole new level as we also begin to meet people who have gone over the edge and even kill themselves as a result of the psychological harm they have suffered. At the same time suppressed memories begin to pop free in those suffering and they separately begin to evolve plans that will ultimately bring them together to find out what incredible event triggered all of this.

I don’t want to give away the end of this novel, but I found it to have a totally satisfying conclusion. The chief villain, when he is revealed, is both frightening and believable. This is a long book—nearly 30 hours in audio—but every page is worth reading.

Twilight Eyes by Dean Koontz

I first read this novel when I was in high school or college—one of the first of Koontz books I encountered. Like many of his novels, many of the images have stayed strongly in my memory for the interceding thirty-plus years and I wanted to know if the novel was as good as I remembered it being. So I picked it up again in audio format and thoroughly enjoyed getting back into the carnival that is the focus of the first half of the book.

Twilight Eyes is the story of a young man (Slim) who has discovered (due to a minor psychic ability) that monsters masquerading as humans (he calls them goblins) live among us and while they pretend to be very concerned about their families and neighbors, they actually revel in torturing (both physically and emotionally) everyone around them. Over the course of the novel, we learn that Slim has come to this carnival seeking work because he has murdered his uncle (a goblin) to keep him from killing his cousin—but Slim does occasionally doubt his own sanity, which makes him an even more empathetic character.

The carnival is the heart of the first half of this story. It’s set in 1963 and unlike a modern preference to make the carnival a place of horrors, Koontz has made it a refuge from the horrible world dominated by the goblins. We travel with Slim as he fits into the community and begins to really like his new neighbors. And we feel for him as he tries and fails to protect the carnival from the goblins. There are triumphs and betrayals in the first half of this story as Slim tries to figure out how he and his new friends can get by.

The second half of the novel was fascinatingly motivated by news of the murder Kitty Genovese, a young New York City woman who was stabbed to death to death in a New York City parking lot over a 30-minute period while 38 of her neighbors watched or listened and didn’t call the police or intervene to help her. Slim, and his girlfriend, decide that they can’t be like those neighbors and ignore the goblins and so they go on the attack in the very tense and exciting second half of the book.

While not one of Koontz best novels, it has a lot of the characteristics that make his stories so great. There are compelling characters struggling with issues of morality—when is it necessary to intervene and how much do concerns for one’s personal safety counter that necessity. It also deals with the strength that comes from a healthy loving relationship. If you want a good adventure yarn in a horror setting, or if you just like Dean Koontz’ other books, you’ll like Twilight Eyes.

Watchers by Dean Koontz

Thanks to some recent deals on audible, I’ve been listening to Dean Koontz novels again. I first read this one about thirty years ago when I was in college and I and my roommate both loved it. The novel revolves around a dog with human-level intelligence and the monster that’s trying to kill it. Along the way, a couple of humans get involved and move heaven and earth to try and save the animal. I’m not really a dog person, but who wouldn’t love Einstein in this novel? The strangest thing about this book is that, as in Strangers, this is a horror story that really isn’t about the horror. It’s about the bonds people forge in tough times and the lengths they are willing to go to out of love. This is a touching book with one of the best villains in literature. I’m not sure that I agree it is Koontz’s absolute best novel, but it certainly is a great one.