Friday, August 28, 2009
Odd Thomas...One Heck of a Book
Odd Thomas sees dead people. Sound familiar? For those people who liked The Sixth Sense, picture instead of a little boy who can see dead people, a naive young man who actually does something about what he sees (without the help of Bruce Willis's ghost). To quote Odd in his first-person narrative, "I see dead people. But then, by god, I do something about it." Odd Thomas is something of an avenger of the dead. He helps them resolve whatever is keeping them around. For example, at the very opening of the story, Odd is chasing down the murderer of a young girl in behalf of her ghost, who led Odd to the murderer.
Part of the novelty of the character Odd Thomas is that he's a "normal" person. He's a short order cook at a diner, has a normal girlfriend, and leads a very mundane life other than his ghost-helping vigilantism. His big aspirations in life are to marry his sweetheart, Stormy Llewellyn, to perhaps get into the "tire business" (selling car tires at a local tire store), and to live in his hometown of Pico Mundo, California, for the rest of his life. No Schwarzenegger. No puzzle-solving Langdon. No Jack Ryan. Just Odd.
I liked Odd's character extremely well. He is naive and callow to a T. He still has hope in humanity--almost blindingly and unabashedly. He loves his girlfriend, Stormy, as if his life depended on it. I doubt Koontz was going for the Adam and Eve motif, but even if he wasn't, he hit the mark squarely. Stormy and Odd seem (in many ways) to fit the Ademic model, in their hotter-than-habanero little desert Eden.
Koontz is thick with the foreshadowing. Loads of it until the reader cries, "Please, no more, Mr. Koontz! I've reached my carbohydrates and foreshadowing quota for the day." This isn't a bad device in the story's framework, but I assume many readers have predicted some denoument and climax events rather quickly into the story. (One major plot twist I anticipated within the first 20-30 pages, and very rarely throughout the reading did I have any doubts that this particular twist would happen.)
It's exciting when a speculative fiction author sets rules for the paranormal early on and then uses those rules as leverage for major plot elements (Brandon Sanderson, for example, is a master at this, along with Jim Butcher, Patrick Rothfuss, and others). Koontz excels here, giving the reader plenty of rules for the world of ghosts and Odd's gift so that the readers can predict some of the events to come or can at least look back after big events and say, "Oh, yes, of COURSE! That's why such-and-such happened!"
I'd recommend the story to some people but not to others. Koontz does take the story dark. The antagonists are people you'd expect to see on death row. They're not nice people. There were times I was sick to my stomach. Was it a well-written book? Yes. Did I like many of the characters and the plot? Yes. Is it for everyone? No. And mostly because of the violence and implied, psychotically criminal violence.
Odd Thomas, by Dean Koontz. Bantam Books. 2003. 446 pp. $7.99 (PB).
Odd Thomas Series:
In Odd We Trust (graphic novel prequel)