Sit back and relax. We’re going to be here for a while.
First and foremost, I must appreciate how fantastic my paperback of this book smells. These old Berkley-Koontz books have a distinctly woody aroma. Less of a vanilla smell and more of a damp pine scent. Like walking through a Christmas tree farm in the rain. I’ve picked up Zebra novels from this era and Tor paperback originals, even a few King Pocketbook editions, and none of them smell like these old Black/Neon paperbacks. If you’re not familiar with my use of Black/Neon, the explanation is simple enough. I’m talking about any of the Dean Koontz novels published by Berkley that had a black cover with simple artwork and colorful (sometimes neon) titles and bylines. They are, in my opinion, the best of the best when it comes to Koontz. His heyday, if you will. And they smell fucking amazing.
Now for the contents of this well-perfumed paperback.
Night Chills is nowhere near as good as I remember. In fact, I made a progress update that read:
“And we’re off! This book takes a while to kick in, but once it does, it’s relentless.
Hot damn, I miss the Koontz of yesteryear. His risk taking always impressed me.”
I lied my flabby ass off. While the ending was okay, it’s not what I remembered. No worries, I will not spoil the ending for you. Suffice it to say, it does not ramp up and get crazy action-y like I thought it did. I honestly feel as if someone changed the book on me. I felt like Obi Wan had waved a hand in front of my face and said, “This is not the book you’re looking for.” How does one forget the entire second half of a novel while remembering the first bit? I’m going to try and explain.
Dean Koontz has been rewriting the same ten books since around 1990. You have one of four premises: computer virus/sentient program takes over people/town; aliens; alternate reality/time manipulation; and finally psycho killer with or without government conspiracy. Each of these premises have two subcategories. There’s a dog, usually a super intelligent one, in most of them and/or the love interest/main character will be a blonde woman. Most of these stories happen in Southern California so that Koontz can describe bougainvillea one of eleventy billion different ways. Night Chills takes place in Maine, but Koontz still managed to throw in a description of bougainvillea. Now that’s talent. If you can find a book Koontz has written without one of the things I’ve listed, I will send you a $10 Amazon Gift card. One gift card per book. Only one winner per book. You have my word. No joke. This is a serious offer.
Now, I know what you’re saying. Four premises with two subcategories is more than ten books. The math adds up to 12 different possible stories. Well, yes and no. I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt because of overlap. There is plenty of overlap in Koontz’s catalog. Take for instance the ending of Brother Odd, wherein Koontz uses three of those premises in one idea. The reason I have settled on the pleasingly even number of ten is due to the fact that I can point out ten distinct Koontz novels that have been reused, at the very least, threes times in the man’s career. All this because Koontz believes in the standup-comedy approach of novel writing. He might tell the same jokes every single night, but he knows there will always be someone new in the audience. The problem comes when you’ve traveled on tour with Koontz for the past thirty years and you’ve heard all these jokes thousands of times. Dean Koontz is the Paula Poundstone of the author world. Yes, Paula still has her fans, but mostly they’re newcomers to her tried, tested, and perfected schtick.
Jesus humped Mary through the Gardens of Gethsemane, I digressed. My apologies. If you’re still with me, I promise I’m getting to the point.
While I remember very clearly the first 200 pages of Night Chills, I thought this book ended differently because Koontz has reused this idea at least four times. I have yet to find the book I was looking for, and I’m tired of hunting. I’ll reread all these Black/Neon books slowly over the course of the next few years, and if I find it, fucking tremendous! If not, oh well. More than likely, I rewrote this book in my head because the ending is rather lackluster considering the build up. Koontz had such an awesome premise to work with and it all fizzled out into your typical thriller ending.
Which leaves me to wonder: How much of this man’s work did I ever truly enjoy? It’s a scary thought, thinking I’ve built up a fabricated fandom based on my own mental rewrites of how I believe things should’ve been. The only consolation I have is that there are thousands of Koontz fans out there who remember his heyday, who truly adored his Black/Neon era. Either way, I will reread and review each book as I read them. Maybe by the end I will have my answer.
In summation: This is a truly middle-ground Koontz book. It has everything we love and everything we hate about Koontz. Oh, and loads of rape scenes, which I could have done without. He definitely went full-on Laymon with this one. Considering they were good friends, Dick probably read Dean’s rough draft and said, “You know what this needs? More rape.” Like a perverted Christopher Walken asking for more cowbell. Seriously. There’s a lot of rape. A lot.
Final Judgment: That one uncle everyone keeps the kids away from.