Book Review: What the Night Knows, by Dean Koontz

Before I review anything I feel the need to alert you to the fact that I’m a huge Dean Koontz fan. He’s my favorite author. I’d by lying if I said that didn’t come into play with this book. Onward!

What the Night KnowsFrom the publisher:

In the late summer of a long-ago year, Alton Turner Blackwood brutally murdered four families. His savage spree ended only when he himself was killed by the last survivor of the last family, a fourteen-year-old boy.

Half a continent away and two decades later, someone is murdering families again, re-creating in detail Blackwood’s crimes. Homicide detective John Calvino is certain that his own family—his wife and three children—will be targets, just as his parents and sisters were victims on that distant night when he was fourteen and killed their slayer.

As a detective, John is a man of reason who deals in cold facts. But an extraordinary experience convinces him that sometimes death is not a one-way journey, that sometimes the dead return.

This isn’t a bad book. This isn’t a good book either. It falls somewhere between, like okay. If Mr. Koontz would have kept the story contained to John, his wife, and Alton Turner Blackwood, this book would have been fantastic. It has all the ingredients of a fantastic story but somehow they just don’t add up, which is a shame.

The backstory behind a young John Calvino shooting the serial killer who murders his family is fascinating. While we don’t get to live those events, we are treated to how they helped shape John through his adult life. He’s had many problems, as one would expect, as a result. The one positive was him becoming a homicide detective. John tracks killers like a Bloodhound on a scent. He doesn’t stop until he gets his man. He and his partner are the top two detectives in their division.

When a family is murdered in the unmistakable style of Alton Turner Blackwood, John can’t help but involve himself in the case. Either someone is copying Blackwood, or he’s back from the dead. Things quickly escalate from there.

Readers learn about Alton Turner Blackwood’s dark journey toward becoming a serial killer through journal entries. I didn’t mind the journal format at all. Mr. Koontz really dipped his toe into the psychopath water for this character. This is one of his most twisted villains of all time. We get to see how an abused child evolves into a violent killer. The creep factor is definitely there. He makes it easy to root for the good guys.

Where this story starts to fall apart for me is the introduction of John’s three children as POV characters. Dean Koontz is a great writer, often times brilliant. But he failed miserably with these young characters. The oldest is supposed to be thirteen and already is obsessed with being a Marine. Okay, I might buy that. What I don’t buy is him knowing everything about the marines. Then there’s the middle child. She’s eleven and makes it a point to use big words I don’t even know. She’s always trying to chastise her little sister for being a child which gets old rather quickly. Then we have the youngest, an eight year old who can see spirits. Not only is she the youngest, but she knows the most about the paranormal world and seemingly things in general. I didn’t believe it for one second. Plus, what kid says “beans” instead of other bad words? All three children read like old people disguised as kids. I could tell the author didn’t really know how to give life to these characters and it really took away from the story. It was so bad that I wanted to close the book several times and even skimmed through some of the longer stretches when we’re in their heads.

Another thing I didn’t like was how fast John came to the conclusion that paranormal activity was the culprit behind these murders. He’s a detective, logical, a man who relies on concrete evidence on a day to day basis. Yet rather early on, he deduces Alton Turner Blackwood is somehow taking over bodies in order to kill again. The reasoning behind it is never really given, other than a creepy dream. To say this was a weak point would be an understatement. It felt like the author took a short cut.

There are plenty of good things about this book. The paranormal aspect, other than how the characters come to believe in it, is genuinely creepy. Think of the movie Fallen, starring Denzel Washington. A serial killer searches for tainted hosts to continue killing. Mr. Koontz even takes readers along as this happens.

The atmosphere is also well done. Readers feel like a killer is watching them. We feel the vulnerability of these characters. The tension builds until it feels like it’s going to burst. Mr. Koontz gets many things right, but ultimately it’s those few things he gets wrong that take away from this book. For me, they were almost big enough to make me close the book. It almost felt like Dean found the same writing mojo of his earlier days. Almost.

What I liked:

  • The main characters are wonderfully written and three dimensional.
  • It feels like a battle between good and evil.
  • The tension makes you feel like a killer is after you.
  • Much of the action takes you into the middle of a scare.
  • Readers are treated to a truly sinister antagonist.
  • I enjoyed the paranormal aspect of this book.

What I didn’t like:

  • The children characters didn’t read like children at all. They quickly become annoying.
  • I didn’t like how a detective just blindly accepted the paranormal reasoning behind these murders. It seemed too convenient.
  • If I were John and I believed my family was in danger, I would do whatever I could to protect them. Instead he keeps his suspicions to himself and puts them all in danger which doesn’t make sense for a character who lost his family earlier on.
  • I know Dean loves Golden Retrievers, but why were readers subjected to talk of the family’s dead pet? I was quickly annoyed.
  • Certain plot points felt rushed over.
  • Some of the paranormal aspects didn’t make much sense to me. How can a malevolent spirit invade a woman trying to protect her family because she hated the guy trying to murder them? She wasn’t a bad person. It didn’t make much sense to me.

Overall: I’m giving What the Night Knows three out of five stars. What Dean does well, he does very well. What he doesn’t do well is like nails on a chalkboard. In the end, the good outweighs the bad for me. There’s too much creepiness and Alton Turner Blackwood was just too nefarious to overlook. While this isn’t one of Dean’s best books, it certainly isn’t his worst either. Fans of his earlier work may be quick to jump ship, but this book still has plenty to offer those patient enough to stick with it. If you liked the movie Fallen, you’ll probably like this book too.

Dean Koontz can be found here: http://www.deankoontz.com/

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