Wednesday, 11 March 2009

The Darkest Evening of the Year by Dean Koontz (Book Review)

The book centres itself around Nickie, a Golden Retriever rescued by Amy Redwing from a household where daily abuse occurs. Her shining presence attracts humans and animals alike.

Amy Redwing is a professional dog rescuer. Architect boyfriend is Brian McCarthy. Both have had troubled prior relationships.

Nickie immediately upon arrival at Amy’s bungalow becomes the alpha dog over the two resident dogs: Ethel and Fred. Amy is surprised when there is none of the usual greetings dogs give to a strange dog in their territory. I picked up on the unusualness of this immediately, as I have had long experience with dogs. Rarely is an outside dog submitted to by dogs with an established territory without some kind of scuffle.

Koontz moves the plot around to cover all the aspects of horror by visiting all of the characters. His evil characters fit the bill perfectly, and this is where his horror element comes in. Horror it is: of the most visceral kind. It arrives at different stages with little explanation building the tension with each appearance; while the reader comes to the realization the characters with nefarious intent are truly evil.

Every explanation of dog behaviour, the management of puppy mills, supernatural occurrences, flashbacks and the actions of the characters, both good and bad, is elaborate and well described correctly. He has a different writing style for the chapters containing the villains as if distancing himself from their actions. The other chapters are written in his usual style. Any reader of this book must go with the flow of the story and take each scene as a clue to the whole. As the clues are revealed the true horror unfolds and the reader is left wondering, as I was, what good can come of the desperate situations Amy, Brian, and Hope find themselves in.

Brian’s ex-girl friend, Vanessa, has custody of their daughter Hope who has Down’s Syndrome. Vanessa torments Brian by calling the girl, Piggy, and unknown to Brian abuses Piggy physically and psychologically. It was these latter scenes that were the most difficult to read. Whoever coined the phrase “humans are the meanest animals” hit the nail on the head.

Ultimately, Amy and Brian came to the conclusion they had to face their challenges head-on to make progress in their own relationship.

By the end of the book Koontz tidied up all the loose ends, though I felt most of the last chapter should have been omitted or rewritten a different way as it appeared contrived. There were several laugh-out loud sections throughout, some tender moments, and many horrific psychological moments. With the story woven together by various viewpoints, Koontz revealed how the characters were related to each other by the end of the book.

I did enjoy this book. It supported my faith that there are positive forces at work when you least expect them. The common theme, as in all of Koontz’s books, is that despite the world being a dark and evil place, there is always that spark of light to find necessary answers and solace in.

Author: Dean Koontz
Format: Hardcover, 354 pages.
Publisher: Bantam Dell


Mihai A. said...

Very nice review, Barbara.
I am a big fan of Dean Koontz and your review reminded me that I still haven't bought this book. Although I love more his earlier novels I still am quite fond of his later works.
As for dogs, although I am no expert I believe you are right, a new dog is hardly accepted in a leader position without scuffle.

RuneE said...

I think I'll continue to avoid horror stories... :-)

PS Thank you for the pleasant comment! All is as well as can be expected and the doctors where satisfied, and then, so am I.

BernardL said...

Thanks for a very thorough review. I'm not sure I would care to read about the ex-girlfriend's treatment of the disabled daughter, even in fiction form.

Charles Gramlich said...

this makes me think again about getting this book. I'd heard a pretty bad review of it, but this sounds like it's in line with other things he's done, which I've enjoyed.

Barbara Martin said...

Mihai, Nickie has special qualities that are revealed each time she makes an appearance. It is up to the reader to pay attention.

Barbara Martin said...

RuneE, this particular book does get very creepy.

Barbara Martin said...

Bernard, Koontz uses a child with Down's Syndrome as an element to increase the horror of her situation. The scens with the physical abuse are only mentioned in passing, as a brief recalled moment. The readers can imagine for themselves what had occurred.

Hope's viewpoint reveals she is well aware of what is happening to her, taking what precautions she can.

Barbara Martin said...

Charles, I read other reviews on this book where the writers had problems with the belief of the supernatural episodes. The depiction of all these occurrences are accurate from what I know.

Some reviews mentioned the story seemed rushed, and in that I would agree where the supernatural episodes occur. Koontz ought to have provided another chapter or several scenes to fit in the main choice he made with respect to Amy and Brian. This is where the contrived aspect comes in, and where I find fault with Koontz.

An explanation may come from a personal part of Koontz's life in 2007 when his favourite dog, Trixie, died. He commented on his website that he had been unable to write for three months after her passing. If he had pressing edits to be made to this book prior to publication, then his grief would certainly have hampered his ability to complete this project properly and others ongoing at the time.

laughingwolf said...

this is another that goes on my tbr list... have not read a koontz book that was really bad

Reader Wil said...

Barbara thank you for this book review. It is probably well written. I don't read horror books however. Especially child ,animal abuse or any other way of torturing people make me very upset. I don't like to see movies about concentration camps either. I like to read detective novels, but also Tolkien's books, and many other books written in the last centuries

Barbara Martin said...

Tony, I find that Dean Koontz books leave the reader to think for themselves about the psychological underlay of his stories, and this one particularly so.

Wil, I understand your feelings on the topic of torture, as I have the same. I wasn't aware of the exact content of this book before I purchased it, otherwise it would have stayed in the store. However, there were other elements that shone brightly to overcome the negativity of the deeds done.

In April I will be doing a book review on "The Toss of a Lemon" which might be much more to your liking.