Saturday, June 12, 2010

The House of Thunder - Dean Koontz


1982; 416 pages. Nom de Plume used when originally published : Leigh Nichols. New Author? : No; two others. Genre : I'm not telling. Overall Rating : 7­.75*/10.
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Susan Thorton wakes up in a small hospital in Willawauk, Oregon. She's been in a car accident, suffered a concussion and has been in a coma for three weels. She can't remember much about herself. As her memory gradually starts coming back, she is visited by four frightening guys from her distant past. She testified at their trial after they killed her college boyfriend. Now they're back, looking not one day older, despite the fact that several of them were reported dead years ago. Nobody else in the hospital can see them, and they're looking for revenge.
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What's To Like...
That may sound like a clich├ęd start, but what Koontz does with it is quite novel. Are the threatening beings ghosts? Aliens? Monsters? Magical beings? Illusions? Is Susan going insane?
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Koontz builds the tension smoothly as the story progresses. Each chapter ends with a "hook", and every time you come up with a pet theory about what's going on, Koontz pokes a hole in it. For the most part (see below), this is an excellent example of "show, don't tell".
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The quibbles are few and minor. For me, the book dragged a bit through the first half (all of which takes place inside the hospital), then went by a bit too quickly in the second half, when Susan finally goes outside. However, other reviewers felt just the opposite, so it's a matter of taste. Also, there are about 15-pages of "tell, don't show" towards the end of the book, that were a missed opportunity for action and adventure. Oh yeah, this was apparently written before Koontz started working a golden retriever into each of his books. But these are all minor nits to pick.
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Kewl New Words...
Mezuzah : a piece of parchment inscribed with specified Hebrew scripture, which is posted on the doroframe of Jewish homes to fulfill a Biblical commandment. Invidious : tending to rouse ill-will or resentment. Tremulous : marked by trembling.
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Excerpts...
"He said, 'Show me a coincidence, and when I open it up for you, I'll show you at least two people inside, plotting some sort of mischief.'"
McGee frowned and shook his head."That philosophy might be suitable for a character in a detective story. But out here in the real world, it's a little paranoid, don't you think?" (pg. 67-68)
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She trusted medical science precisely because it was a science. She distrusted psychiatry because, to her way of thinking, which had been shaped by her education as a physicist, psychiatry was not really a science at all; she thought of it as little more than voodoo. (pg. 228).
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Late Thursday afternoon, a fast-weaving loom of wind brought new gray cloth for the rents in the clouds, patching over every last glimpse of blue September sky. (pg. 304)
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You're not paranoid if they really are after you...
The House of Thunder was published in 1982, somewhat early in his career, when Koontz was still writing under pen names. He would hit his stride five years later, when Watchers (see here) came out, but his story-telling skills are already evident here. I'm not much into this genre (I'm still not telling what it is), but this proved to be a real page-turner for me. What more can you ask out of a good story? 7.75 stars.

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