by Dean Koontz
Published by HarperCollins
416 pages, 2004
Something Frightening This Way Comes
Reviewed by Robert Lightbody
Dean Koontz's subtly gripping new chiller, Odd Thomas, once again illustrates why this author is at the top of his field. In this new book Koontz has shaped a story in which the world of the real collides head-on with the world of the unreal with devastating and very real human tragedy. While in Odd Thomas Koontz delivers all we have come to expect from him, including suspense, action, violence and general weirdness, there is also something wonderfully understated about this book. Along with everything else, it tells a very subtle human story of love and life against a backdrop of the strange and sometimes nasty.
The book takes its name from the central character, everyday hero Odd Thomas, a simple grill chef at the small-town Californian Pico Mundo Grille. Odd takes pride in his job and aspires to nothing more than a normal life. He is, essentially, just like the rest of us: struggling to get through an increasingly dangerous and chaotic world. However, he has been gifted -- or damned, depending on your view -- with the ability to commune with the dead. In Odd Thomas it gives new meaning to the phrase, "I see dead people." It's a talent that brings him into daily contact with the restless spirits of the newly deceased and murdered who he feels duty bound to help cut their ties to the world and right any wrongs that keep them clutching to life. Odd is also troubled by visions of the otherworldly creatures he calls the bodachs: strange formless creatures which flock in packs to scenes of extreme violence and murder and who seemingly prey on human suffering. Odd Thomas narrates the book and the story essentially takes place over 24 hours, introducing us to the sights, sounds and inhabitants of his small home Pico Mundo, on a day when an evil, unlike anything Odd has faced before comes knocking at his door.
The world of Odd Thomas sits very firmly within the culture of a modern America and small town Pico Mundo and seems to represent a micro bubble of the fears of a nation, which grew a little darker after the events of 9/11. Through Odd, Koontz touches upon the worries of the United States, its obsession with instant celebrity, fame, gun crime and terrorism. These elements are never blatant or preaching but are deftly injected into the world of Odd Thomas.
Although this novel is most definitely a book within the mass-market thriller/horror genre, it is also so much more, being raised above its contemporaries by its excellent, deceptively detailed characterization. Considering the novel is just under 400 pages and takes place over a single day, Koontz does a wonderful job of characterization and even manages to explain elements of the main characters' back stories including what brought them to Pico Mundo and how their friendship with Odd Thomas was fashioned. The relationship with his girlfriend, teen sweetheart Stormy Llewellyn, is unreservedly romantic and touchingly examined, as are his friendships with his boss, Elvis aficionado Terri Stambaugh, town author Little Ozzie, police chief Wyatt Porter, and landlady Rosalia Sanchez, who fears she will one day vanish. And we see his far from perfect relationships with his mother and father and even Elvis, the king, himself. Koontz also manages to bring life to the town of Pico Mundo examining the parts of its past that impact on Odd and his friends.
In the past Koontz's books have been an exploration of the unknown that exists within the shadowed creases of our ordinary world and the otherworldly dangers that lie beyond the corners of our vision. Odd Thomas shows that, however dangerous we believe the world of the unknown to be, sometimes the root of all evil lies in the heart of seemingly normal men and women. | February 2004
Robert Lightbody is an entertainment journalist working in London, who writes for magazines around the world. He likes books that stoke the imagination and leave you with that "something special" long after you have read the last line.