I'm adding a new blog category for book reviews along with this entry, where I will post blog reviews of books that I feel are deserving of a more in depth review. I am also going to be adding a page where I will keep track of the books I have read for the calendar year of 2014.
But now, on to the (relatively spoiler free) review!
I just finished listening to the audio version of Dean Koontz's "77 Shadow Street". Here is a link to the Amazon page for the book in case you're interested.
It's hard to accurately describe genre anymore. It appears Amazon must agree with me, because if you look up a book on Amazon and go to it's page, you cannot find (at least I cannot find) anyplace on the page where it actually tells you any genre for the book.
But this story might be considered something of a genre mashup of a bit of fantasy, a bit of Sci-fi, a bit of paranormal, a bit of horror, and a whole lotta thriller.
The main plot arc, revolves around the occupants of a modern day luxury condo called The Pendleton. The Pendelton's residents are transported through a fantastical 'trapdoor' in space and time to the future, only to discover that they have a great impact on the horrific future they are forced to visit.
Overall I would give this book a 4 out of 5 stars. In my opinion it opened really strong, with a great series of vignette's from a wide variety of characters. I did feel that after a while the story got a bit dragged down by all the POV characters. Because of all the POV switching that took place, sometimes it felt like the story was not progressing. In fact I nearly gave up on the book, and it took me a while to get through it. Normally once I start listening to an audio book I tear through it quickly and that is about all I listen to in the car (at least driving to and from work each day on my 1+ hour long drive each way). If the book had not picked up, or I had stopped reading, I would not have rated it so high.
But as I said, it dragged quite a bit in the middle and I stopped listening for long stretches. Eventually my curiosity of what was happening got the better of me and I would pile in for another hour long session. After getting through the middle, the story really picked up.
This was my first Dean Koontz book, and as a result I was not prepared for the beauty of the prose. While this was a thriller, the descriptions and action and characters were alive and jumped off the page. Rarely have I been in such awe of prose. The descriptions and the writing really carried me through the story when it bogged down and kept me going.
The second absolute draw to this book is the characters and the voices of the characters in the narration. If you read the Amazon reviews, many folks will criticize the large cast of characters. I will admit that at some points in the novel the large cast and frequent POV changes gets burdensome.
But what so impressed me about the large cast was how distinct each POV was written. The story is told mostly in Third Person Limited, with the exception of "The One" whose chapters are more a monologue style than an actual scene or action.
But each character's narration is so unique and distinct from all the others it's amazing. So much so, that if you are a writer, I recommend at least just reading the first third of the book even if you don't plan to finish it, just to witness a master storyteller switching perspectives.
Some perspectives are bitter, because the characters are bitter. Others are whimsical, some are militaristic and utilitarian, others are paranoid, or vehemently jealous and greedy. One is southern, one is an ex-lawyer and therefore a bit legalistic so to speak. One is a child, while another is a young girl suffering with autism.
Each POV reads so... differently from the others. It really is a joy to read (or in my case listen to).
The third strength to the book was the ending, which I will talk more about below.
As I said, the main weakness for me was that the story bogged down in the middle. While it had a very strong opening with so many POV characters involved in bizarre situations that keep you guessing, as time progresses the actual main conflict gets lost in the shuffle. About 2/3rds of the way through the book I was still unclear about what the book was about.
At the recommendation of a few friends, I have read or listened to three Stephen King novels to this point in my life. I have now read, Carrie, The Dead Zone, and The Stand (the full extended edition).
In each instance I felt the books started very strong, and the writing was incredible. But the endings were nearly always disappointing to me. In a way it felt as though King got to a point and just got tired of typing and shut it all down. It's a bit like driving down a road with beautiful scenery on either side, that eventually leads to a bridge over a wonderful scenic lake. As you drive onto the bridge however, you find it stops in the middle and you plunge into the water and die.
Koontz did not disappoint in his ending. While the ending was terse, it made perfectly good sense, had a bit of humor, as well as some impressive use of darker concepts to tie up the loose ends. I really liked the ending, and while it was quick and decisive, it made perfect sense to me and was really how I would have handled it, if I were a character in that story.
Overall I liked the story and I am glad I listened to it. The hero of the story to me is Whinnie, a young boy with a father who is disappointed in him and ridicules him to make him feel small and weak. Over the course of the story he struggles to find his own strength, against incredible odds, and displays courage as well as his own commitment to doing the "hardest hard thing" in his life. He exemplifies the finer virtues in humanity. It is also his courage and bravery that helps break through the pain and suffering of the autistic girl. Their scenes together are some of the finest I think I have ever read.
Not to mention his POV is by far the funniest. The character is a middle school boy, and his POV narration lines up with this, but offers some of the finest bits of humor introduced in the heaviest parts of the story.
I recommend this story to anyone who likes a good read, good characters and a good ending.