Like I wrote previously, Dean Koontz has a formula that serves his talents and his readers very well. If you’ve read a Koontz book, you’ve read them all, in a sense, but that’s a good thing and has kept me coming back again and again. I really like Koontz and I know what I’m going to get.
Color me surprised, then, when 2003’s “Odd Thomas” shuffled out some pretty big twists that caught me off guard and sort of re-energized how I thought about and perceived Koontz as a novelist and story teller.
Here’s the set-up: Odd Thomas, a 20-ish short order cook in the small, fictional desert town of Pico Mundo uses his “gift” of being able to see and communicate with the dead to help people, and in the course of the story his talent leads him to a pretty fiendish plot designed to kill loads and loads of Pico Mundo-ins.
If someone used that basic description on me I would likely want to read the book, being familiar with Koontz or not. But as a Koontz fan, the description would establish a certain expectation in my mind and I’d be waiting, in a sense, to see how the various blanks are filled in as the story progresses.
Again, don’t get me wrong. I like that about Koontz. Like it a lot. I enjoy that no matter what craziness his characters find themselves in, they’ll come out on the other end okay, strengthened by the ordeal and ready to move on to a highly realized and self-aware period of their lives.
Koontz’s characters also generally come out of the adventure as different or changed people; no matter if they’re fighting wizards, genetically engineered monsters, or time traveling demi-gods from the beyond the stars, the people that populate Koontz’s southern California universe are better when it all wraps up, their convictions reinforced, their beliefs vindicated.
Also, great harm rarely ever comes to those characters or the ones they love. They might get their asses kicked or go through some really heavy shit, but in the end, you know that everything is cool for everyone. Any tragedy has already happened. And those tragedies almost always shape the character’s decisions throughout the story.
Odd is a different creature, one of the surprises that made me pick up the next book in the series, Forever Odd. He is already self-aware, already resigned to his fate, which is to commune with the dead and try his best to help the living. Odd is not different at the end, he is only Odd, stuck in Pico Mundo for fear of being overwhelmed by the dead that roam the earth, and weary of being sought after as a sage, a spiritual leader, or a demon.
And, not to ruin anything, but Odd suffers a pretty terrible loss, also a first for me in a Koontz book, that really cemented the character as being truly tragic. I’m not sure if Koontz has ever written such a tragic character before (the mad scientist/monster in Shadow Fires come to mind, but not really), especially since Odd is such a caring and smart person.
Also, the film version is due next year and like I wrote about here, movie adaptations of Koontz’s work don’t often come together and I’m really hoping they pull this one off. Anton Yelchin is cast as Odd and that’s a good choice, as is Willem Defoe as the Sheriff, a sort of, father figure and protector of Odd, who knows about his gift and aids Odd in helping to protect people and solve crimes. He’s like Jim Gordon to Odd’s Batman.
My only concern about the movie is that it’s being written and directed by Stephen Sommers, a guy that usually known for high concept action/fantasy movies like “The Mummy” series and the recent GI Joe flick from a couple years ago. While it has its action beats, the first Odd Thomas book is more of a mystery, quiet at times and frightening at others. I’m hoping they pull it off.
As for the book, High Recc’d, for Koontz fans and the uninitiated alike.