I decided to lift my personal ban on Dean Koontz novels when this list told me his 77 Shadow Street is a quality read. Every neuron in my brain started screaming as I slid the book off a shelf at Coles. I'm not sure exactly what they were trying to say, because neurons can't talk, but it was probably something like
Struggling not to twitch, I paid for the book and took it home, handling it much like one should deal with plutonium. I was really fighting my body on this one. My sick, deluded brain was reassuring me, "It will be better this time! This is totally not Phantoms! Koontz just gets better and better with age! He's practically Peter Straub these days!" But my physical instinct was still to carry this thing to the nearest high bridge (in a tightly sealed container, of course) and lob it into the river with my all my strength.
This conflict made for an interesting reading experience. I may have looked calm as I sat in my chair, reading the first nine chapters, but on the inside my internal organs were threatening to mutiny.
So, what's wrong with 77 Shadow Street? Well, what's wrong with every other Dean Koontz novel? Let's review:
1. There's absolutely nothing new here. A dreamhouse built on cursed ground? The Shining, The Amityville Horror, Poltergeist. Mysterious deaths among the construction crew that built it? Rose Red. The house drives people crazy? The Shining and Amityville again. Not one original thought exists in the pages of this book.
2. Characters? What characters? Koontz's characters are the flattest, least memorable people in the realm of pop fiction. To call them stock characters would be an insult to stock characters. We have an elderly man who pieces together the grim history of the mansion (*cough*Mary Sue*cough*). We have a divorced country songwriter who is - not even joking here - a coalminer's daughter. Then there's a somewhat traumatized Iraq vet, an investment banker, and...oh, who cares? By the third or fourth chapter, I wanted them all to get eaten by the elevator, like the drunk ex-politician was in the first chapter. Just die already.
3. Not scary. Good horror fiction is about subtlety. The masters start out slow and build up to a sustained eeriness that explodes into terror. Koontz starts out with explosions, so the rest of the book is just some fizzing and spluttering. It's like watching an action movie backwards.
To make matters worse, Koontz's publisher decided to get all gimmicky with this book, and they created a ridiculous "immersive experience" that is basically just a hidden-objects game. In other words, Koontz is so certain you won't feel his story that he has to show you pictures of it.
Nine chapters in, my body finally defeated my brain. I couldn't handle the nausea, the twitching, or the continuous yawning for one more minute, and I stopped reading. I haven't pitched the book into a body of water yet, but I will be marching it down to the used bookstore at the earliest opportunity. In a sealed container, of course.
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