I started reading Dean Koontz about a year and a half ago, happening upon a copy of “Watchers” in a used bookstore. I remembered the movie with Corey Haim and decided to pick it up. I was happy with it, and surprised, considering how different it was from the film adaptation.
I’ve read a dozen of his books since, and for the most part I’ve been very happy, finding many things to like about his work. I don’t think of him of a poor man’s King, though I understand why some would feel that way. I do think his work is nearly unfilmable*, though I don’t know why, exactly. “Phantoms” is a great example, because the movie is damn near ridiculous, while the book is a creepy, tension filled thing about ancient monsters reeking havoc on a small California town.
2004’s “The Taking”, is definitely “vintage Koontz”, if there is such a thing, and contains most of the hallmarks of his work: supernatural or monster elements, small town setting, a strong female character, weapons, people dealing with circumstances beyond their worldview, marriage or relationships and use of a golden retriever or a dog in general, though there are others elements that pop up different eras of his career.
It also has something that populates most off Koontz’s best work, at least what I enjoy most about them, in that what you think you’re reading isn’t quite what you are reading.
The Taking’s basic plot: worldwide alien invasion set in a small town, becomes essentially a meditation of the nature of religion and religious belief, though to say more would ruin any surprises for those who do want to read it.
The book starts with Molly, the book’s main character, waking to the sound of a torrential downpour in the middle of the night. A writer and sometime insomniac, Molly goes down stairs to work on her latest manuscript, to find the front porch of her San Bernardino mountain home loaded with dozens of wild coyotes.
Reports of a the same weather phenomenon soon fill every news station on TV, and Molly and her husband Neil must decide if they will hunker down, fortify their home, or head to the nearby town of Black Lake, in order to strengthen their numbers to face the horrors of an alien invasion.
Again, I don’t want to ruin anything, but Koontz does a good job of keeping the reader on his or her toes, as he throws out elements not usually associated with the alien invasion genre.
Admittedly, all of Koontz’s decisions don’t make sense (a subplot involving Molly’s criminal father and failed writer mother really don’t do anything for the overall narrative), but as someone who gravitates to genre books/movies, I definitely enjoyed it.
For those who would take the recommendation to read The Taking, and who have not ready anything else by Koontz, I suggest the following: “Watchers”, “The Bad Place” and “Shadow Fire”. All three have the same DNA as The Taking, and undoubtedly exist within the same idealized version of Southern California, Koont’z own version of King’s New England.
And for those of you, like me, who came across Phantoms, or Watchers, or Hideaway on some cable station in the middle of the night, and thought, what the fuck is this? Don’t judge Koontz by those adaptations alone, and give the man’s written word a chance.
* Its not fair to take Koontz and King and compare their work side by side, but it is curious that King is so widely adapted, and generally to good effect. I think Koontz, more so than King, embues a certain aspect to his work that King does not, but I am not sufficient enough of a literary critic to know how to describe it. Whatever that aspect might be, it makes Koontz’s work more difficult to pin down, especially for a film designed for mass consumption.
I’ve never heard or read a King opinion on Koontz’s work, or vice versa, but it would be interesting to get the two guys in a room and just record their thoughts on the process, genre, horrors, whatever.
Also, full disclosure: I paid money to see Phantoms in the theater back in…1997? 98? I can’t remember when that shit was out, but, it is, at best, a joke in a Kevin Smith movie. As Jay said of Ben Affleck in “Jay and Silent Bob Strikes Back”: Affleck, you were the bomb in Phantoms! Indeed.