Over the past few weeks my reading attention has been turned to Dean Koontz’s 77 Shadow Street, which was a novel I picked up on a whim when about to take a lengthy bus journey without a book for company. At the time I was just finishing up Stella Gemmells wonderful fantasy debut The City, the review of which is available https://kyle8414.wordpress.com/2014/06/22/the-city-by-stella-gemmell-game-of-thrones-meets-roman-history/.
Somebody once told me I had a knack for storytelling. Somebody also once told me I was always up for a good rant. Here, to either your joy or dismay (neither of which particularly influences my writing style of course), I will be employing the rant, because damn it is justified.
If I could use an analogy of what reading this book feels like, it would probably be something like ‘that feeling in the pit of your stomach when you know you have been well and truly duped by some conman’. We’ve all been there, whether it was holiday souvenirs or online shopping; everyone one of us has had that gut punch to our ego when we realise someone has got the best of us. Over the last few weeks, Dean Koontz put that feeling in my stomach. He didn’t literally put it there of course. He was probably back in his mansion somewhere counting all the money he garnered off this sad excuse for a novel.
In retrospect, I should have had some inkling all was not well when I read Mr. Koontz has had over sixty novels published in his career (although looking at his website’s bibliography this figure could actually be much bigger). “What the hell?- you might say. Surely a writer with such an illustrious career couldn’t possibly turn out a bad novel. Yes and No. Koontz’s success must be the result of some talent, which I won’t deny, as I have not read his more recommended works. But it doesn’t take an avid reader to know someone churning out that many books must surely be writing some amount of awful stories along with the good stuff. I, of course, went and bought one of the poorer ones.
I sincerely hope this story is the worst he has published. If he actually can stoop lower than this and still get it to market, I’ll have lost faith in literature altogether. The most glaring thing wrong in the first few pages is the sheer volume of words on the page. Not that the font is small-au contraire. No, here I refer to Dean’s seeming obsession with using every large word he can shake out of a dictionary. For about ten pages I wasn’t actually sure what the book was about, because I was trying to wade through all the mess he had put in front of me. The worst thing is I really wanted to like this story; I really did. I love the idea of a horror house/mansion/hotel, with all sorts of ghosts and goings-on. In fact I’m sure most horror writers would testify that this is the easiest plot to work with.
Step 1: new person goes to the house
Step 2:Weird shit happens
Step 3: Some kind of resolution
THAT’S ALL YOU HAD TO DO DEAN
It was a ‘in and out’ job, with no need for mucking about. The first character we encounter, some senator figure who returns drunk to the hotel, is dead in ten pages (oops spoiler). Nobody minds a character dying, but it’s the fact that this character literally has nothing to do with the rest of the whole book. Zilch. His literal purpose was just to show that ‘ooh house is spooky’. I think one other character noticed he was missing, and he was the security guard so ya, doesn’t count.
The rest of the next hundred pages uses a character by character approach, which I actually don’t mind, as we get a good feel for the whole house. The problem is literally all these characters suck. Besides Bailey Hawkes, and some other fella who I’m sure dies anyway, I really hated everybody in this book.
“Oh, Oh but I’m sure he meant for you to hate them”
No. He didn’t. He meant for us to hate like two or three and love the rest. Sorry Dean, I hate them all. What Koontz thought would be a good way to make us like his characters was to give them all problems. Seems smart right? Only issue, I can’t sympathise with any of their shit. I really don’t care about some singer we just met telling us she got divorced, and I couldn’t care less about a pair of old sisters who are in retirement and bored. At this point of the book (page 100 of 400), I knew I already hated this book, and I just wanted to see how bad it could get. Readers instincts paid off it seemed; it got far worse.
What apparently is happening in the house, which has a dubious history with previous owners for murders etc, is that every 38 years the Pendleton (which is what it is called now as a hotel) will transition to the future, where all the characters will be hunted in some post-human world. Coming up to this event, loads of stuff will go wrong in the existing time, such as strange moulds growing everywhere, or characters from the past showing up only to disappear. Dean’s description of fungi got very annoying. There were no ghosts in this entire novel really, but there was a fuck load of fungus. Nobody in the world finds mould frightening. I mean yes it’s ugly but it’s not creepy is it. The real terror then is this strange creature that will kill all the inhabitants.
Thumbs up to Dean for somehow making his villains even worse, by making this otherworldly creature that is made up of millions/billions of nanobots. You see readers? It was science all along. Fuck you Dean Koontz. The last thing a horror reader wants is a plausible explanation. This isn’t Scooby Doo. I remember the original episodes incidentally. Now those were scary.
Meanwhile back in the house of scary plants and zero ghosts, our characters have to contend with problems such as rooms looking different, and TVs saying ‘exterminate’ but not actually doing anything. In order to survive, our group of barely tolerable freaks band together in one room, only to do the one thing decades of low budget horror movies have informed them you do not do-split up. Cue loads of deaths that are completely the characters fault. Maybe Dean koontz wants me to support the villains, and if so, he is a genius. At this stage, I am cheering them on as they kill our heroes.
I forgot to mention that at several points throughout the book, some dope called “the one” interludes for a page or two. Apparently he is the master behind all this future-present and the whole fungi-creature-environment is all part of one world organism. Ya, I know, it’s fucking stupid. These pages were perhaps the worst. Lines upon lines of ‘the one’ spewing so much shit about how he is a legend so that you seriously question whether Harry Potter going on about being the chosen one was actually even annoying at all.
As for handling the whole ‘oh look it was science all along’, Dean is way out of his depth.
“Hey, I have a BA in English, that means I know how technology and science works”
Reading it was painful, trying to nod along to shit you knew were just pure guesses. I doubt he could stop for a bit of research like. I mean, if he took twenty minutes out of his day, he’d probably not have published another book.
I’m sure nobody has made it this far, but OH WAIT, I forgot my favourite worst part: Dean’s sentence length. The odd time in a book, you’ll come across some whopper of a thirty or forty word sentence and wonder what the author was thinking. Try that every two minutes in this book. I’m sure a good few actually hit the 50+ word mark, and at that length you actually cannot keep track of whatever the fuck the writer is trying to say. Not fifty short words either. At least half will be straight out of the thesaurus, who as a happenstance, sounds like a far scarier dinosaur villain than the mute beats we have to read about here.
In the end, all the characters don’t die. Boohoo. I’m telling you the ending because it will save you four hundred pages of life you don’t get back.
Seriously, the scariest thing about this novel is the writing.