Book Review: Odd Thomas, By Dean Koontz

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Odd Thomas sees dead people. Walking around like regular people. They only see what they want to see. They don't know they're dead.

 

Wait, I thought the kid's name was Cole. The Sixth Sense, right?

 

But no, this is a novel by Dean Koontz, and also a great example of how there are no new ideas: Just new, unique, and fun ways of examining old ones. Odd Thomas does indeed see dead people, but that's one of the more normal aspects of Odd, and of Koontz's amazing novel.

 

 

My adventure came when my wife brought home a stack of used Koontz novels. I've seldom read his books, and had no real opinion about them, one way or another. The first I liked; the second I didn't much care for. Then came Odd Thomas, which kept me enraptured in a "do I really need to sleep? Do I have sick days available at work?" kind of way.

 

I was late to the party: There are six Odd Thomas books and a movie version of this one, dating back fifteen years. To demonstrate whether I liked it: I've already finished the first sequel, Forever Odd.

 

In the best "strange characters in a small town" fashion, Odd is surrounded by the unique occupants of Pico Mundo, California. Koontz's idea of a small town is a population of forty thousand, which really small town people like me regard with amusement, but never mind. Also in the best entertainment fashion, Pico Mundo seems to have a very high percentage of murders and other violence--where's Jessica Fletcher when you need her? As the story opens Odd encounters a little girl, who seems perfectly normal except that she can't speak.

 

In Odd's world, the dead don't talk. By the end of the first chapter he's used his psychic powers to identify the girl's killer, and the chase is on.

 

Despite his talents Odd is a short order cook. Because of his powers, really, because he's an unusually aware twenty-year old and knows that without order and routine, his ability would overwhelm him. He's madly in love with his childhood sweetheart, Stormy Llewellyn, he's the helpful sort you'd dream of having as a neighbor, and he's known around town as a great--but strange--young man. Only a few people, including the Police Chief, know of his psychic talents.

 

But in the course of one day his life is disrupted even beyond his own experiences. Odd finds himself chasing after a suspicious newcomer, and it leads him to supernatural madness, murder, and the knowledge that in less than a day something horrible is going to happen to the town he reluctantly protects.

 

I just realized how impossible it is to actually describe Odd Thomas. You have to experience it. To a large extent it's all about the style, in a book written as an after-the-fact account by Odd himself.

 

Odd Thomas is a weird and wonderful mix of action, thriller, and humor, the kind of well-crafted work that reminds one of Terry Pratchett or Neil Gaiman. It makes fiction writers like me insanely jealous. It's the kind of book that only established writers can get away with, especially when Koontz fills in backstory by having Odd just tell you what the backstory is. Yeah, he gets away with it, and also with that kind of colorful description that's gone away a little too much in today's literature. But what he gets away with is awe-inspiring.

 

No, I have no idea if the movie is any good ... but I'll probably watch it, anyway.

Comments

John Minehan Added Feb 10, 2019 - 6:17am
Dean Koontz strikes me as a very "hit or miss" kind of writer and you really never know if one of his books will work or not.  I think his work is very character driven and, if he has not developed an interesting Point-of-View character, the books tend to collapse into an over-plotted mess.
 
He is apparently really influenced by John D. McDonald, apparently, but seems less consistent.
 
Kind of like King, but you get the sense he is not writing in part to deal with his own nightmares.  
Stone-Eater Added Feb 10, 2019 - 7:05am
Hm....
 
I always prefered King to Koontz, but might try this one :-)
Mark Hunter Added Feb 10, 2019 - 7:52am
That’s exactly my impression so far, John: hit or miss ... and now that I think about it, you’re right about the character part, too. The story can be so surreal and the language sometimes too purple, but the character Odd Thomas and the supporting cast make it work.
Mark Hunter Added Feb 10, 2019 - 7:55am
Stone, I think if I have to choose I’d probably pick King as more skilled and consistent, but Koontz as more enjoyable to my own reading preferences. It just goes to show sometimes I prefer a candy bar to fancy chocolates.
John Minehan Added Feb 10, 2019 - 9:06am
Koontz is more of a pulp writer than King and King sometimes seems to write as a way to work out his own psychological issues.
Steel Breeze Added Feb 10, 2019 - 9:44am
good review.....back when King was gettin boring,after some great stuff(the Stand) i came across Phantoms by Koontz and was hooked....Whispers,etc........tho i'm a fan of sci-fi/horror,i think his best was neither.....The Good Guy....the scene at the bar to kick it off is a little mind-blowing....
John Minehan Added Feb 10, 2019 - 10:31am
I read (and enjoyed Dragon Tears (1993) because of the contrasting points of view of the two police officers and that of the dog.  I also liked Dark Rivers of the Heart, since the main character was a former member of a Ranger Battalion and Koontz understood that did not mean he was an Army Special Forces guy, something popular writers often get wrong. 
Steel Breeze Added Feb 10, 2019 - 10:46am
i would also reccomend 'Watchers"....
Mark Hunter Added Feb 10, 2019 - 5:12pm
I think you’re right, John. When I was younger I often heard suggestions that King and Koontz were similar, but I haven’t found that to be the case at all.
Mark Hunter Added Feb 10, 2019 - 5:13pm
Don’t spoil me, Steel! I have a lot of reading to do.
John Minehan Added Feb 10, 2019 - 5:30pm
The guy who reminds me more of King is Robert McCammon (and maybe John Ferris).
Mark Hunter Added Feb 12, 2019 - 8:11am
I’ve heard of McCammon, but I don’t think I’ve ever read him—I’ll put him on my list.
John Minehan Added Feb 12, 2019 - 2:13pm
He got a lot of attention in the late 1980s for writing "Steven King" style books, at least in Stars & Stripes Book Stores in USAEUR.
Mark Hunter Added Feb 12, 2019 - 4:01pm
Ah--that was at a time when I wasn't reading either of them. At this point I've read about half a dozen Koontz books from different times, and one thing I can say is that he varies his stuff quite a bit. I do like his writing style, although he can sometimes throw the purple prose.

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