Thursday, March 12, 2009

By the Light of the Moon (Dean Koontz)

Over the years I've sometimes dipped my toe into horror novels, some by the likes of Stephen King and Clive Barker. Books by Dean Koontz – of which I’ve read many - apparently get put into this same category although I'm not sure why. Many of the books I've read by Koontz aren't really horror. I would tend to call them action thrillers.

Okay - some of his stories do have supernatural or superhuman aspects to them, this one included (albeit with a slightly futuristic/scientific spin to it). But they're not horror. Instead, “By the Light of the Moon” is again more of a thriller.

After reading a few of these it soon becomes clear that Koontz's books often have a familiar pattern to them. The protagonist (usually a fair man with a slightly old-fashioned and optimistic outlook on life) gets involved in some mysterious event. Perhaps he witnesses a murder or encounters an unusual person, like he does in this book. He is then pursued by someone or some agency intent on capturing/killing him. As the story unfolds, so does the mystery, the protagonist meets up with a woman (whom he often starts to care for and fall in love with) and we eventually learn the reasons why the hunter is after the hunted. There's also usually a socially, or mentally, disabled person featured somewhere - someone with Downs syndrome or who’s autistic or something along those lines.

The other common theme with Koontz's writings is that they are generally dynamic and dramatic. The story usually zips along at thrilling, refreshing speed. And the beginning chapters of his books are usually a good example of this. The initial setup and confrontation are introduced straight away with very little lead up.

Like this story where, within the first few pages of the book, a kind of mad scientist holds artist Dylan O'Conner and comedian Jillian Jackson against their will and injects them with some sort of weird "stuff" that is the scientist's "life's work". Dylan looks after his autistic brother Shep and together they meet up with Jilly and are soon on the run from a group of trained killers that are after the mad scientist and anyone with whom he’s had contact.

Soon, the effects of the "stuff" begin to surface. It affects a person's mind, changing it, and (in some cases) endowing the recipient with superhuman abilities. Jilly starts to see strange visions of events in the future, Dylan is able to read a person's intentions from their psychic spore and even Shep seems to be different. But the common thread between all of them is that they seem to be unnaturally compelled to do good.

Unlike other stories by Koontz, this one seems padded out with unnecessary descriptions and exposition. I felt that the book could have been about two-thirds the size of its 480 page-count and it would still get everything across. It would probably read a little better as well. Still, like many of Koontz's books, this is a great thriller that - surprisingly - ends up becoming something of a superhero origin story (which, for me, is a bonus). By the end, the heroes of the story have gained superpowers and have decided to use them to help people – they even give their group a superhero-sounding name.

Although a little wordy at times, this is recommended if you like suspenseful thrillers with an unusual twist. Grade: Fine.

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