Lately when I read a new Dean Koontz novel, I have one of two reactions: either I feel like throwing the book against the wall, or I want to abandon it halfway through.
His novels never used to do that to me. I could hardly wait for the next one to come out.
The last new Koontz novel I read, From the Corner of His Eye was one where I felt that the characters were falling into too much of a formula writing; it was as if the characters from other Koontz novels had all been picked up and plopped down in a different novel. Of course, no matter what problems they face, the police and government can never be of any help at all or are actually involved in the conspiracy.
When I began One Door Away from Heaven, my initial reaction was “Oh no, here we go again.” We have the Koontz trademark of a super-smart dog; we have the genius child prodigy; we have a former detective with a heart of gold who grows up to be on the straight-and narrow despite a background of misery.
What redeemed the novel was the character of the boy who comes to call himself Curtis Hammond. The character was intriguing all the way through. In the beginning, I had one theory as to what was wrong with him, only to be completely sideswiped when the truth about him came out. Following him throughout the story was a complete and utter joy.
The child prodigy is named Leilani Klonk. Her psychopathic step-father briefly sets them down in a trailer park where she meets Micky Bellsong and her Aunt Geneva (have I mentioned that odd names also seem to be a fascination of Koontz?). Despite being homeschooled by a psychopathic mass-murderer and a drug addict, the child seems to be growing up to be the perfect image of goodness and with a brain that would put John Nash of A Beautiful Mind to shame. She is also handicapped and needs to wear a leg brace. Koontz’ description at times made me feel as if this is supposed to be a sort of amusement during the novel – a feeling I am not entirely comfortable with.
The novel itself takes off in all kinds of crazy directions once the characters are in place. Koontz does a bang-up job with Curtis’ storyline, but takes Leilani’s in a somewhat predictable direction. At times I felt as if the book was written by two entirely different people who had to some how agree on how to wrap it all up at the end.
And that’s the biggest problem I had with the book: the ending. While the rest of the book carries the reader along at a breakneck pace with all sorts of twists and turns, the ending falls into a typical they-lived-happily-ever-after fairy-tale that I’ve unfortunately come to expect from recent Koontz novels. This is when I feel like throwing the book against the wall since I’ve invested so much into the characters only to be let down by the ending. Koontz novels such as Dark Rivers of the Heart with its ambiguous but hopeful endings are so much better.
What I also liked was the fact that he brought up a subject here to that educated me. I had never heard of bioethics or the movement Koontz speaks about both throughout the novel and in an Author’s Note at the end. It is unnerving to realize that there are people out there who still think along Nazi-like lines of a human super-race where anyone who is not physically, emotionally, or mentally perfect does not have a place.
I can’t say this is the worst of the novels I’ve read – not even the worst of the novels I’ve read by Koontz. The parts that are good are really good. Unfortunately, the bad parts really seem to bring down the rest. Had he done the ending differently and parts of Leilani’s storyline, this could’ve been a fantastic book.
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