Dean Koontz is one of my favorite authors. When Innocence published in December 2013, I had it on my list to buy for Christmas, but one thing or another delayed my purchase. I then haunted the Prince Edward County public library until finally, this past Sunday, the reservations list was exhausted and there it was on, the new book shelf, just waiting for me.
And I have to say, I was disappointed.
I tried hard – very hard – to like this book. My reaction remains “meh”. Blah. It didn’t thrill me.
(Spoiler alert! If you don’t want the plot revealed, STOP HERE).
The book is written in the first person, and generally I find Koontz at his weakest when he writes in the first person. His Odd Thomas books are written in the first person, and they’re my least favorite. I found the character of Addison, the narrator in Innocence, a clone of Odd Thomas without some of the eccentricities.
The book’s other protagonist, a wealthy Goth teen named Gwyn, also seemed like a stock character. Koontz always pairs an oddball man, a misfit, with a woman who either 1) is extremely wealthy, which makes running from the bad guys a lot easier or 2) an old-fashioned misfit, i.e. someone in love with the past. In this case, Gwyn is stock type #1. Her father has so much money that before he dies, he sets up not one but eight bolt-holes for her in Manhattan, and a ninth that no one knows about. They are magically stocked with food, they are cleaned, the rent is paid. I have enough trouble managing one household; Gwyn somehow manages to manage nine secret hideaways. Yes, her guardian manages several, but come on…
The story begins with Addison’s compelling tale of somehow being such a physically deformed misfit that when people look at him, they want to kill him. The midwife who delivers him wants to murder him; his own mother admits to wanting to kill him several times. His mother kicks him out of the house at age 8 with a backpack of food, then commits suicide a few minutes later. He never knew his father. A cheerful childhood – no. Rarely in a Koontz novel.
Anyway, we don’t exactly know what Addison’s deformity is. I suspected he was a werewolf, or looked like a demon but I was wrong. The surprise twist of what he actually is was good, and Koontz’s altering chapters of present story versus Addison’s memories of the past was also engaging, a tale within a tale.
Addison lives underground, presumably under New York City, with a man like himself he calls Father. After Father’s brutal murder by the police, Addison lives by himself until one night, after sneaking into the public library, he encounters Gwyn chased by a stranger. He befriends Gwyn and the two become companions. The man chasing Gwyn has embezzled a fortune from her father, and tried to rape her when she was 13. He hasn’t forgotten and is willing to chase her down to the ends of the earth to kill her.
As the story unfolds, we meet more odd characters and a bird-born plague escapes from North Korea to doom humanity. The bad guy gets killed by the plague, so the main characters really don’t have to do anything to escape. I think that was the first big cop-out for me; I was like, “C’mon, why is this turning into a poor version of The Stand?”
The big reveal is who Addison’s guardian and protector has been all these years. I won’t spoil it for you, but one of Koontz’s hallmarks is making priests good guys, and he doesn’t disappoint with that part of the book.
The big reveal – Addison’s “deformity” – was not particularly compelling to me. I think part of the problem is that it is speculative theology, and Roman Catholic theology at that. [SPOILER ALERT]. What would happen if someone could be born of human parents but free from original sin?
The only person I know of who fits that description was the Blessed Mother, Mary, Jesus’ mother. Conceived without sin on her soul, she would have been like the characters in this book. But people didn’t react to Mary by wanting to kill her; she seemed to be an anonymous person in history, except for Christians. We don’t have any stories about her other than a few stories in the Bible, like the wedding at Cana, where she basically says “Trust my son” to the servants.
I get what Koontz is trying to say about the effects of sin on the soul, and how looking at our own sinful selves can drive us to madness and despair. I respect him for even trying to fictionalize this concept; very few writers, especially Catholics, would dare. Yet Koontz does dare, and if he falls flat for me, it’s not for lack of trying.
The prose is, as always, gorgeous. Koontz has a gift for writing beautiful sentences. His prose is masterful and writing students would be wise to study it.
I still hold that Koontz’s masterpiece is From the Corner of His Eye, and that he should return to the middle ground of his career, or at least avoid apocalyptic settings. This book was an interesting read, but I only give i a 3.5 out of 5 stars. I’d be curious to hear your opinions of it, so if you’ve read the book, drop me a note in the comment box below.