Monday, January 17, 2011
"What the Night Knows" (Bantam, $28) is not for everyone, but will likely to be embraced by many loyal fans longing for the old-style Koontz, who wrote captivating thrillers.
If you're not offended by an early jailhouse scene or perturbed by vicious, bloody murderous rampages, you're in for a wild literary ride.
The novel is set in a nameless town, in contemporary times and introduces John Calvino, a hard-working homicide cop with his own dark secrets.
Twenty years earlier, Calvino's parents and sisters were brutally killed and savaged by Alton Turner Blackwood, who had murdered three other families.
John, 14 at the time, stopped the terror and killed Blackwell. John is now living a half-continent away, happily married with three pre-adolescent kids.
He's called to a local crime scene with worrisome similarities to his own past, making John wonder whether a copycat serial killer is on the loose.
The reality is much worse, particularly after another family is murdered in identical fashion.
John feels his wife and three children will become victims of the devious killer, and tries to take steps to avoid it.
His kids are having problems of their own, slowly being exploited by a persistent supernatural presence.
It gets better - or worse from there - as this nightmarish, nerve-wracking tale defies easy categorization.
It's part ghost story, part police procedural and part supernatural thriller, with considerable suspense and a touch of romance.
Koontz is at his best when ratcheting up the tension toward the end; further insights into the serial killer's warped mind are revealed through dark diary-type entries.
The dialogue of the Calvino kids flows smoothly, capturing many childhood nuances. Understandably, they're reluctant to discuss strange occurrences at the house.
Longtime Koontz readers won't be surprised by the appearance of a golden retriever, although the dog's role is limited.
There's less emphasis on spirituality than in most of Koontz's recent books, with virtually none of the quirky humor that has made his "Odd Thomas" series so appealing.
This is a top-notch, chilling tale from a master of the genre.
This review was originally published by the Lansing State Journal on Sunday, January 16, 2011
Ray Walsh, owner of East Lansing’s Curious Book Shop, has reviewed crime novels and noir thrillers regularly since 1987.