Monday, 23 January 2012

This book's a horror

I love classic science fiction and fantasies set in the real world, but I've not ventured that much into reading horror. Okay, I've got a secret pleasure in Dennis Wheatley, and my favourite fantasy writers Ray Bradbury, Gene Wolfe and Neil Gaiman can all produce a form of horror but I've rarely gone for the pure thing. Apart from Mr Wheatley, my only real experience is Steven King. I think some of his work - particularly It - is surprisingly well written and pins you in place as a reader. So it was interesting to be sent the latest book by Dean Koontz, an author I've never tried - 77 Shadow Street.

To look at it's quite a chunky hardback, but I found it a reasonably quick read as it's a page turner. This is certainly my kind of horror, in the sense that it's fantasy horror, rather than simply man's inhumanity to man. The setting is very well built, and the sense of menace effectively done. It's interesting that I mentioned It earlier, as in some ways there are similarities - the dark, almost elemental inhuman force occupying an island of humanity and attacking it.

If I'm honest it's not as good a book as It. I don't think Koontz produces the same quality of writing as King. It's fine, but lacks the finesse. He also spent far too long on the build. Although there are lots of strange goings on, nothing definitive happens for well over 100 pages. There's also far too much internal narrative from the characters. We get page after page of their thoughts. I sometimes wanted to scream at Mr Koontx that creative writing mantra SHOW, DON'T TELL!

And the final problem is that it suffers from California Suite syndrome. I'm sure everyone knows those films that ought to be great because they have lots of great actors in them, but that fall down because there isn't a main character or characters to identify with. Instead we get a whole cast of different people and follow their intertwining storylines. Great idea, but it never quite works. The audience is always distanced. And the same things happen here. We meet all the different characters who live and work in apartment building - but it's difficult to get too involved with any of them.

All that said, this is an intriguing story, Koontz is quite brave in introducing several mysterious and confusing characters long before there's any certainty of what they are - and parts of it are genuinely horrific in a good way. What's more there is an excellent twist in the storyline (though you have to get past page 300 to reach it), even though the premise depends on a highly unlikely coincidence that one of only two people in the world that would enable this storyline lives in a specific house. As long as you are happy with suspension of disbelief, it's definitely a book I'd recommend trying, and I may well try some more Koontz as a result of reading this. You can see more at and

P.S. - funny how the mind works. I was just loading the cover photo above and read the tag line as 'Elvis is real.' Sigh.

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