I've never read a Dean Koontz book. I've always been a Stephen King reader, supposing, incorrectly, that you could only be one or the other.
But when someone recommended Odd Thomas to me after hearing my novel idea, I knew I had to check it out.
Odd Thomas is the first of what is currently four Odd novels and a comic book slated for publication in June of 2008. After striking gold with one stand-alone book after another for years, it seems Koontz hit platinum with this character, and is more than happy to keep mining the vein for as long as it produces.
Good on him, I say, even though the publishing industry's desire for -- or insistence on -- series books is a trend that leaves me cold.
Odd -- whose name was supposed to be Todd before it was botched on his birth certificate -- is a twenty-year-old fry cook in Pico Mundo ("little world"), California. He's adjusted to his strange talent for seeing the dead by limiting himself to a small-town existence, where ugly deaths from murders, suicides and car accidents -- and the restless spirits they produce -- are a relative rarity. Life, for him, is just more peaceful that way, and Odd confesses he could never live in a large city, where unhappy souls are produced by the dozens on a daily basis.
And yet, despite Pico Mundo's picturesque calm, the disgruntled dead have a way of finding Odd just the same. The book opens with the appearance of a murdered twelve-year-old girl and Odd's heroic pursuit of her assailant through the town's tract homes and swimming pools.
Because of thrilling captures like this, Odd is trusted by the local sheriff as someone who can help solve -- and occasionally prevent -- crimes. So when a stranger arrives and Odd gets a whiff of his less-than-savory plans, it's practically no time at all before he and the reader are on another chase to get to the bottom of things and save the day.
Though Odd is a likeable character with a good head on his shoulders, a girlfriend to whom he's eternally devoted, and a strong desire to do right by the wronged spirits he encounters, his actions often strained my own suspension of disbelief. He laments getting involved in crime and punishment, yet seems eager to break into a suspect's house in search of clues. He enjoys the sheriff's respect and friendship, yet when confronted by a dead body in his apartment he goes to great lengths to conceal the evidence, as if the police wouldn't give him the benefit of the doubt.
Koontz tries his darnedest to justify these odd reactions in order to keep everything moving swiftly forward, but in the end it required more than a bit of indulgence on my part. However, when it comes to learning from an author who's got the mechanics of plot and story down cold, there are plenty of worse examples out there to follow.
Though his writing and character work seem less polished than King's, Koontz doesn't get bogged down in the drive for literary importance that has marred some of his contemporary's latest efforts. (This may have changed, however, with the release of The Darkest Evening of the Year, which appears to be chasing some of the same ambitions.)
Still, the book is a satisfying enough read, and even though I saw the ending headed down the tracks from miles away, it still managed to be a surprisingly emotional moment for me. This was my first Dean Koontz book, but I'm pretty sure it won't be my last.