I finished Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz earlier this week. This novel was first published in 2003 and is the first in the Odd Thomas series of novels (seven total). I have never read a Dean Koontz because I have assumed he writes grisly, dark stories with mediocre skill. I do not know why I assumed this – maybe it was extrapolated years ago from reading the newspaper or backs of books or something. All of my books are still experiencing claustrophobia in a room that gives me the same feeling. So, it was a perfect time to grab up a pulp just to have something to read.
This novel is not very good – if we are judging it by the standards we set with writers like Calvino and Nabokov. Also, it is not science fiction nor is it literature. This is a pulp novel pumped out to entertain readers for the short length of time that they are gripping it in their paws. Was I entertained? Yes. Did the novel have the basic elements needed for a completed story? Yes. Did I hate anything about this novel to the extent that I wanted to stop reading it? No. The key thing is, before I read it, as I was reading it, and now as I review it: I know this novel is just a throw-away pulp novel. That means it was destined to have a two or three star rating.
The worst element of this novel is that first-person narrative is supposed to be from a twenty year old. However, in no world is it believable that this kid, Odd Thomas, is that young. The characters are in a Catholic church and the narrator identifies a prie-dieu (page 156). Besides myself, I know no one else that would put the name to the object correctly. Certainly no one under fifty. The narrator also shares architectural descriptions like this:
County General, the oldest hospital in the region, features an impressive porte-cochere with limestone columns and a dentil-molding cornice all the way around the building. – pg. 296
Do you know any twenty year olds that would describe a hospital like that? I don’t. And this is just using vocabulary as an example. There are other ways it seems that Odd Thomas is not written as a true twenty year old.
The basic concept for these novels is not exactly unique, but it is interesting enough that I can see lots of readers being curious about what Koontz can do with it. Odd Thomas lives in a small desert town called Pico Mundo. He possesses some abilities that put him in contact with more than the regular world. He sees and interacts with the dead. He recognizes non-human, not of this world entities. He also is sensitive to psychic “luck” or “guidance.” Basically, there is a desert town in which a twenty year old kid can see ghosts. Not unique, but always interesting.
The plot here is what most readers would expect. A creepy guy comes into town, Odd (with his special powers) notices. Trouble ensues. There was one element that I did not expect and that was interesting and I was hoping Koontz would develop, but it kind of just went away. It was only there to add a little more spooky, I guess. But I wanted more out of that incident. (Not to spoil anything: it is a unique room in a particular house.) Anyway, Odd has a whole series of friends that he consults and who help him. (I love Terrible Chester – who is a cat.) Odd is the only one who thinks he is aloof and independent. In reality, he bounces from character to character for advice or assistance or just a place to relax.
Still, Odd is likeable. He can be annoying, he can be witty. He generally does better than those oh-so-dumb characters in the 1980s who seemed to always do the wrong thing and make the worst choice possible. I feel bad for Odd at the end of the book. Nevertheless, there is some depravity in this book. I know many readers might just call it gore, but I am not talking just about descriptions of chopped up guts or whatever. I refer to the actual motives and intentions of some of the villain characters – not nice, not good. Depraved, for sure. And actually, not just the villain characters – Odd’s parents are both quite nasty.
Overall, I give this three stars, understanding that this is a PULPY three star rating. I may read the next book in the series. I recommend this for contemporary pulp fans looking for the typical murder crimes with a little supernatural thrown in.