March 29, 2011

Dean Koontz, Watchers [review by starlight]

"We have a responsibility to stand watch over one another, we are watchers, all of us, watchers, guarding against the darkness." 

Watchers is an early suspense novel from Koontz, which cemented his career as a best-selling author and competitor in the horror/sci-fi genre Stephen King had already begun to dominate. The premise is clearly imaginative - Travis Cornell has come to believe that he is cursed to a life of love and loss, and he comes across an incredibly intelligent dog in the wilderness of the Santa Barbara mountain range in California. At the same time he feels he and the dog are being tracked by an unnatural, inhuman stalker, which at first he takes to be a mountain lion or something of the sort, but he is soon filled with such a primordial fear that he feels something else is prowling after them. The dog, named Einstein for his human-like intellect, finds ways to communicate his fears to Travis, who has to uncover two mysteries - how did this freakishly smart dog come to be a stray wandering a forest, and what is Einstein so afraid of?

I have mixed feelings towards the only Koontz novel I've yet to read, which may prevent me from delving further into his writing. On the once hand, I soared through it, unable to put down the suspenseful page turner for a few days, and it was quite well-written. There were some lines that were well-crafted enough to bring me to tears while reading, and while that isn't something hard to accomplish with me, I'm surprised at how few authors manage to make me well up. I'd say that this is something from King that Koontz emulates well - I've never read a Stephen King story that didn't elicit a strong emotional response in me, whether a five page short story or the many volumes of The Dark Tower series.

On the other hand, I wasn't a huge fan of the story's heros. In fact, I was so much more intrigued by the "villains" that I ended up rooting for them. Travis' character has an interesting backstory, I'll admit that much. He lost everyone he ever loved and it makes him wary of getting close even to the stray dog he finds. Travis comes to form a relationship with Nora - a shut-in who was until recently abused and hidden from the world by her aunt, an old maid and her caregiver. Again, Travis is afraid that she will be hurt if she is incorporated into his cursed existence. It's all very interesting, but it doesn't go anywhere, except in a Disney "and they lived happily ever after" sense. Koontz has Travis and Nora fall in love and get over their individual fears and enjoy life with their dog and a baby on the way. King would have Nora, the dog and the baby die in the fire for the emotional effect. Maybe it's not a fair comparison, but by the end of the book, the heroes were so predictable and one-dimensional that I really wanted the Outsider or Vince Nasco to tear them to tiny pieces.

I really don't want to give any spoilers about the Outsider, because he/it is a very compelling adversary that is quite incorporeal and undefined for a good portion of the book. Nope, I won't tell you a thing about him. Vince Nasco, however, is possibly my favourite thing about Watchers, and definitely worth promoting in this review. He's a really good hit-man, but way on the delusional side. Every time he kills someone, he takes in their energy to make him stronger, and with a few more kills, maybe even the murder of a baby or unborn fetus, he will become invincible! It sounds messed up, but trust me - you will love this villain. He's a ton of fun.

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