Relentless by Dean Koontz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Reader reviews on this one seem pretty polarized. I see a lot of "Dean Koontz can do no wrong and I loved this...more please!" at one end and "What the blue blazes was that supposed to be?! What a hack!" at the other. Ironic because, well, you know, the story in question features an author who gets one bad review on his latest opus...but is it just a bad review, or an omen of much worse to come (cue horns & strings: "duh Duh DUH!")
My bias is that Koontz is a very fine writer, and I love everything I've ever read by him to one degree or another. Some of his novels are works of fine art and deserve to be re-read, some are nerve-wracking page-turners that give an E-ticket experience but are not nuanced enough for me to want to own my own copy. This one is not what I would call one of his best, but hardly worth the bile that some folks feel must be hurled at it.
What I liked were the usual Koontz hallmarks: believable protagonists, believable dialogue, good pacing, well-researched technology, and a bit of humor to offset some of the grim content. Some people thought it was a bit too lighthearted, but I just imagined it as directed in film form by, say, the Cohen brothers or Wes Anderson, and then it worked just fine. There is also, big surprise, a charming dog, which seems to throw some people into a tizzy. Folks, if you don't like the inclusion of a good natured, smarter than average dog in your fiction, then don't read Koontz! Seriously, that's like picking up the "Twilight" series and then whinging about all the vampires.
What I had a bit of trouble with were things that involve spoilers, so…
The book moves along at a nice brisk pace, with few quiet moments as per a good page-turner, then suddenly ramps into high gear in the last few chapters. This sounds reasonable, but at the same time we’re bombarded with a slew of new characters and an over-arching organization not previously hinted at. Is Shearman Waxx working for the mysterious “triskelion” organization or his creepy mommy? Is the triskelion group a legit black project or some kind of private body that has hacked in to the Fed? Disturbing genetic experimentation is hinted at, or at least some kind of personal breeding program, by Evil Mommy, explaining the existence of Waxx and his also creepy “son”. Then we have little Milo and his science projects. It’s no surprise that his gadgets save the day at the end, because the kid has “deus ex machina MacGuffin” stamped on his forehead from the get go, but Koontz never really develops that thread other than to keep talking about Milo’s obsessive tinkering. I don’t need the schematics handed to me, but where does this knowledge come from? Does he have some kind of extra-terrestrial tutor? Pan-dimensional? Supernatural? All of the above? I just think there needed to be a little more explanation to make it seem less like a plot-convenience at the last minute.
What bothered me the most was the extremely hideous sadistic cruelty of Waxx and his cohorts. I can understand his groups cultural agenda, but that in no way explains the series of grotesque murders and complicated cover-ups. It just seems out of proportion to me given the otherwise generally light-hearted tone of the book. We’re talking “Silence of the Lambs” level horror, here, and in fact our hero, Cubby, references that book/film at one point, saying “I know what happens to people who go in to Gumb’s house.”
All that said, I still enjoyed it and it was worth reading through. Or listening, in my case.
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