I had grand plans for the month of October, and you know what they say about good intentions. My final destination notwithstanding, they have not come to pass, October is typically the month of all things scary and in tribute to that I revisited Dean Koontz. I had drifted away from the horror genre, a staple of my adolescence, with a few notable exceptions. Every bibliophile’s nightmare happened to me when vacationing in Jamaica more than a decade ago, I ran out of things to read and was reduced to the offerings on the carousel in the hotel gift-shop. I was drawn to the brightly colored chaotic cover of Intensity.
I am traumatized still, almost seventeen years later, by the raw terror I felt reading this novel as Chyna Sheppard becomes aware that there is a predator in the house she is visiting. Truly, I distinctly remember being home alone months afterward and repeatedly mentally chastising my inner scaredy cat that the Scarborough Bedroom rapist was not leaving the GTA to come for me! Not to mention that I will never again look at motor homes without extreme suspicion.
Intensity – A young woman staying as a guest in a Napa Valley farmhouse becomes trapped in a fight for survival with a self-proclaimed “homicidal adventurer”, and races to warn his next intended victim. Unrelentingly terrifying, this book lives up to its name.
Watchers is only the third novel I have read by Dean Koontz, after the damage inflicted on my psyche by Intensity, I wasn’t sure I wanted revisit this talented yet terrifying author. When faced with disturbingly bare shelves in the audio-book section of the library I opted for another offering by Mr. Koontz, The Taking. I found The Taking unremarkable with the exception of one description that stayed with me, the unrelenting rain that smelled like semen, to which my thought was “Ewwww!” It seemed our association was over, I considered Odd Thomas but then decided it wasn’t right for me.
Then I read The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer and rediscovered my love of horror, only the final book in the trilogy wasn’t out yet. Faced with the conundrum of what to read next I did what I always do when faced with a dilemma I turned to the internet. Unfortunately there are precious few suggestions when you type the query “horror/romance genre”, not that all of the listings were bad by any means as this is how I found my beloved Experiment in Terror series.
Cross Lassie with E.T., add a touch of The Wolfen and a dash of The Godfather, and you get a sense of some of the ingredients in this supernatural thriller, which should move Koontz ( Strangers a notch closer to Stephen King’s high-rent district. When Travis Cornell, Koontz’s appealing hero, encounters a stray dog while hiking, he quickly realizes that the animal is most unusual and that something terrifying is stalking them both. The encounter with the dog is the beginning of a tightly woven plot involving genetic manipulation that has created two extraordinary animals; one is the dog, named Einstein, the other is a murderous hybrid called “The Outsider.” Hunted down by both the government and a professional killer who has learned the secret of the animals, Travis, Einstein and Nora Devon, a lonely woman befriended by man and canine, attempt to escape their pursuers all the while knowing that a confrontation with The Outsider is inevitable. Though the climax packs a little less wallop than it deserves, this is the sort of thoroughly frightening and entertaining tale that has its readers listening for noises in the night.
Watchers had good intentions but unfortunately the end result was contrived and preachy. What started out as a novel and inventive plot worthy of film adaptation rapidly declined into a dissertation on why you should love and vaccinate your pet and while you are at it don’t genetically engineer super soldiers using primate and crocodile DNA. Don’t get me wrong I am an animal lover. But I won’t sport with your sensibilities by posting pictures of our family feline on the blog, even if she is adorable when she is sleeping and if you could only see her little fangs!
Travis Cornell is a solitary man, in an attempt to stave off incipient loneliness he attempts a return to happier times by taking a trip to the mountains when he comes across a lone golden retriever. The dog is insistent that he not continue along a certain trail and Travis soon becomes convinced that he and the dog are not alone in the mountains. They flee, and Travis soon decides that he will keep the obviously homeless animal naming him Einstein after witnessing some of the dogs peculiar talents.
Nora Devon like Travis leads a cloistered life, a lifelong slave to her deceased hermit aunt, she is ill prepared for interactions with the outside world and finds herself targeted by a sexual predator. I found that the exploits of Einstein the Wonder Dog began to pale shortly after Travis and Nora’s initial meeting. Perhaps it is simply that the story is dated now copyrighted almost thirty years ago but I found Nora ridiculously and unrealistically naive and the interactions between Nora and Travis were not particularly compelling. Einstein’s feats of genius tested my ability to suspend disbelief.
Worse yet was the descriptions of The Outsider, I couldn’t help but envisioning the evil monster as cross between Manbearpig and Scuzzlebutt (with his celery hand and Patrick Duffy for a leg) from episodes of South Park in the mid 90s. Strangely enough neither character was the creation of the series’ mad geneticist Dr. Alphonse Mephesto. However, The Outsider’s self hatred was reminiscent of Stan Marsh’s clone gone bad and as I am sure you can see once that connection was made I am afraid any credible investment that I had in the plot was lost. Rather than scary I ultimately found Watchers rather humorous, which I somehow doubt was the intention of the author that aside it was an entertaining enough read but I would be surprised if it inspired anyone to keep the light on.
AUTHOR: Dean Koontz
RATING: 2 1/2 Stars
- Horror Means…Stephen King? (descentintoslushland.wordpress.com)