Dean Koontz is a Terrible Writer, Part Two

My last post on this topic was a little unfair. While I'm not sure there is a writer talented enough to express how horrible much of what Dean Koontz writes is, the truth is there is a reason Koontz has sold millions and millons of books - he has a lot of talent. The problem is he often uses that talent to write the worst garbage he could possible write.

I left off my last post near the beginning of Koontz's book Deeply Odd after Koontz where Koontz had finally began the action. This is where Koontz shines. Even in a bad Koontz book, twenty pages can pass in a blink of an eye because he can write good action scenes.

And I don't mean action as in "action." There doesn't need to be car chases or explosions. As long as something is happening to advance the story, Koontz has a chance to be gripping. Koontz isn't like Stephen King who can get you to read 100 pages before you realize absolutely nothing has happened (I'm looking at you Black House)

Anyway, back to the book. The main character, Odd Thomas, has some sort of psychic intuition about a semi-truck he sees while walking through town and starts following it. A couple pages later, he's in a public parking lot standing behind it with its owner pointing a pistol at his crotch threatening to kill him. A bit into the conversation, the guy says:

You think I won't do it right here in the open. But you'd be surprised what people don't see. They won't hear the shot. You'll drop before you get the breath to scream. The instant you drop, I'll stomp your throat, crush your windpipe. Then I'll handle you like you were a drunk, prop you against one of those trees, like you're a hobo sleeping off a bender. Nobody wants to check out a piss-drunk hobo. And I guarantee, no one will remember me. No one will have seen me.

Now, the gun was said to have a silencer attached. To be specific, it was said to be a ".45 Sig Sauer with silencer." Those aren't quiet. The word "silencer" is a minomer. In fact, many people call them suppresors rather than silencers because you cannot make a gun silent. Listen to how loud this ".45 Sig Sauer with silencer" is:

And read Koontz's description of what happens when the gun eventually goes off:

He squeezed off a shot, which made less noise than did the slug ricocheting off the pavement near my left foot.

I don't know how loud a bullet hitting pavement might be, so if I were trying to be really generous, I'd be willing to forgive this, but then he writes:

When I touched him, even as the bullet left the sound suppressor with a soft thup...

Yeah, no. The first few pages of this book were just terrible introductory paragraphs that went nowhere and did nothing to setup the story. Then, the main character is walking into town and has a psychic intuition about a truck whose driver decides to murder him for no apparent reason, with a gun that defies the laws of physics.

And then the magic begins.

Yeah, you heard me. When Odd touches the crazy truck driver (as referred to in the quote above), they both share a psychic vision (separate from Odd's psychic intuition) of the truck driver in some weird costume using a flamethrower to murder three children. They were both startled by the vision, and Odd used the opportunity to run into a nearby supermarket.

That wasn't the magic I referred to though. The real magic came next. The truck driver follows Odd into the supermarket looking deranged, said:

You come with me and answer some questions about what happened back there, and I'll kill you easy. You don't come, I'll blow away a couple of these innocent women shopping for groceries, and then I'll kill you. Want that on your conscience?

Then pulled out his gun and shot a fruit from one of the stands a customer was looking at, who was startled but somehow didn't freak out, notice the gun, notice the truck driver or react at all like a normal person would. Because, apparently, magic.

Odd gets out of this situation by, I kid you not, throwing fruit at the guy, running into the stockroom and hiding. That's enough. The truck driver just chooses not to chase him, at all. The truck driver randomly decided to murder Odd, shared a psychic vision with Odd where ODD found out he would murder some children, followed Odd into a grocery store where he threatened to murder people in public if Odd didn't cooperate, pulled out a gun and fired it in full view of witnesses, then just gave up when odd threw some fruit at him.

And that's just Chapter One of the book. Chapter Two gets even more unbelievable. Because the trucker inexplicably fled, Odd decides he has to give chase. Odd is on foot though, so he decides he needs to steal a car. He's gone approximately half a block south from the supermarket by the point he's reached this conclusion, and thinks:

The cowboy trucker had wheels, and I didn't. He was getting farther away by the minute.
As the siren swelled louder, rotating emergency beacons flashed far to the south, approaching.
Immediately ahead of me, a muscular man with tattooed arms and a pit-bull face sprang out of a Ford Explorer parked at the curb. Leaving the driver's door open and the engine running, making an urgent keening sound, he ran past the bank in front of which he had left the SUV, raced past two other buildings, and disappeared around the corner, as if perhaps he had a prostate as big as a grapefruit and an urge to pee that sent him rushing pell-mell toward the nearest restroom.
The bank was a sleek contemporary building with big windows. In spite of the tinted glass, I could see two men inside. They were wearing identical President-of-the-United-States masks. They held what appeared to be short-barreled pistol-grip shotguns. I figured the employees and customers must be lying on the floor. Evidently, none of them in there could hear the siren yet.
At once I climbed behind the wheel of the Explorer and closed the door. I put the SUV in gear, pulled into the street, and drove perhaps seventy or eighty yards before the racing police car swept past me on its way to the supermarket....
In this emergency, the only way that I could obtain a suitable vehicle was to steal one. Stealing from thieves seemed less of a crime than taking from honest people. I wouldn't go so far as to say that Providence put this Explorer before me precisely when I needed it, because I wouldn't want to imply that God collaborated with me in auto theft. But if it wasn't Providence, it was something.

I felt a lengthy excerpt was necessary there to emphasize just how many coincidences were necessary to reach this point. Odd says he doesn't "want to imply that God collaborated" with him on auto theft. That's fair. Providence didn't put that robbery there. Dean Koontz did. This is blatant deux ex machina. I would say a whole lot more about it, but if I did, I wouldn't stop talking about it because this entire book is filled with nothing but it. As is every book Koontz has written in the last 30 years.

So let's just skip past it with a quick snicker at the totally cliche masks the robbers wear. Having done so, I want to take a quick moment to point out we are only at Page 23 of this book. Page 24 has us told Odd has another form of psychic power - he can see ghosts. That's no surprise if you've read any of the last five books in this series. For five books now, we've been told about how Odd can see ghosts who can't move on for one reason or another, but they can't speak. It's sort of his central schtick. I'm focusing on it because Koontz decides to completely ruin it in this book, and I wanted to point that out at the outset.

Anyway, we then start on a journey thanks to another of Odd's powers - psychic magnetism. If he thinks about something, he can find himself drawn toward it, or as it turns out in this case, it toward him. I want something:

The Ford Explorer was a fine machine. Sturdy, easy to handle, it rode almost as smoothly at seventy miles per hour as at sixty, only minimally less well at eighty. I looked forward to seeing how it handled at ninety.

This is pretty much the only indication of Odd's speed we're given. He clearly got over 80 and was accelerating. A guy ahead of him was going slow and he intended to pass, but there's no particular reason he would have needed to slow down to do so. Even if he had though, he would have only slowed down recently. So explain to me this:

Intending to pass, I glanced at my side mirror to be sure that the left lane was clear, and I discovered an eighteen-wheeler looming alarmingly close. I hadn't heard the truck, but now I did, and when I glanced at my rearview mirror, the snarling-shark grille of the ProStar+ seemed to be gnashing its chrome teeth in anticipation of a satisfying bite.

The truck driver, in a semi-truck, caught up to a Ford Explorer speeding on the highway. How?! A ProStar+'s top speed is under 90MPH. It's not going to sneak up on anything. Like all semi-trucks, just reaching its top-speed takes forever. Even if Odd had slowed down because of a slower car in front of him, there's no way the ProStar+ could have caught up with him.

I accept whatever magic the trucker used in the supermarket to make people not pay attention to him might let him somehow sneak up on Odd too, though that raises a ton of other questions. What I don't accept is that it somehow lets a semi-truck catch up to a Ford Explorer, especially not when Odd later thinks:

I wondered why the air bag hadn't deployed. But then I realized that a vehicle belonging to professional criminals might have been modified to make it not only faster and easier to handle but perhaps also to remove from it any features that might hamper them in a slam-bang pursuit with police hot behind them.

So the trucker was able to catch up to Odd's souped up Ford Explorer, which was stolen from some conveniently placed bank robbers, in a semi-truck which he was only able to find thanks to Odd's psychic magnetism which drew the crazy guy to the speeding Explorer he had never seen, all so he could run Odd off the road when he could have earlier just walked into the stockroom of a supermarket and shot Odd with his magical gun that somehow doesn't make any sound. And all that happened solely because the trucker decided to murder Odd for taking an interest in his truck.

That's the story of the first 28 pages of this book summed up. I think it shows a bit of why I say Dean Koontz is a terrible writer.

3 comments

  1. Ah, the guns. I've been re-reading a lot of Koontz from my childhood lately, and I didn't question these things as a kid but now it's like... what. He's got all this knowledge about makes and models of guns, and firing guns, and bullets and loads, yet all his silenced guns go off usually "No louder than the hissing of a cat". Why.

    Furthermore I'm currently reading this one where a guy's got a silencer, fires six shots, and then screws on a new silencer figuring he's got about 12 before the baffles are "too damaged to be of any use silencing the gun."

    Surely people don't buy expensive silencers for a mere 12 shots, I thought to myself. Surely they're not that ridiculously disposable, what, are they made of Ziploc baggies?

    I looked it up and sure enough, you can put like 30,000 rounds or more through them before any sound-suppression is lost. It makes no sense. Were there EVER any silencers you could put a mere 12 rounds through, ever, in the history of silencers? I don't get it. How can you even know obscure gun-words like "baffles" without knowing how long they last? How do you know so much and so little?

    Anyway glad you noticed, 'cuz no one else seems to. He's been writing this weird wtf gun-stuff for decades and decades, and I just don't know why no one's telling him. <.<

  2. Hey Josie, Koontz has a strange relationship with things he writes about where he often seems to show noteworthy knowledge of topics at the same time as he shows a complete lack of understanding of them. It's weird. I've sometimes wondered if it is just an artistic thing, where he knows what he writes doesn't really make sense but likes the imagery/sound it creates.

    I remember hearing an anecdote, maybe from Koontz, maybe from King, maybe from someone else. In it, the author talked about how he wrote a description of a crime scene which he really liked that involved a description of how the bullet casings looked on the ground. Only, the shooter had used a revolver. Despite logically knowing that would be impossible, the image was so compelling to him he didn't realize the mistake.

    I don't know if that has any role in things like what you describe, but they are definitely weird. I could see a homemade/cheap silencer becoming ineffective with use, but if you're buying one of any quality, you'd never need to swap it out after six shots. I think I even remember the scene you're talking about. When I read that book, I was young enough too to not question it.

    By the way, there's something about silencers I've always wondered. I've seen discussion of how much silencers reduce the volume of gun shots, but they always talk about it in terms of decibels as though all that matters is one number. That's not true though. Things like how long a sound lasts matter too. I'd be curious to know more about how silencers affect the overall noise profile of a gunshot. Things like the difference between a shot being audible (at a given distance) for a quarter of a second instead of half a second could be meaningful.

    Incidentally, I recently found out there are suppressors which aren't used to alter the sound of gunshots, but only the muzzle flash. I thought that was interesting. I guess there are a ton of things I don't know about guns.

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