Fear Nothing

by: Dean Koontz

I re-listened to an old (1998) Dean Koontz novel, Fear Nothing.
Fear Nothing: A Novel
I probably listened to it the first time shortly after it was recorded. I'm not crazy about the reader, as it wasn't exactly the way I "heard" the protagonist, Christopher Snow, in my head, but I am crazy about Dean Koontz.

I knew I enjoyed this book, and its sequel, Seize the Night, immensely when I first discovered them. The story is typical Koontz: something is wrong in the sleepy little California coastal town of Moonlight Bay. Our hero, Christopher Snow, has to cope with an illness that would drive most of us mad: he has a rare genetic disorder called Xeroderma Pigmentosum, which renders him a virtual vampire of sorts. Ultra-violet radiation, even the tiniest amount, can cause severe burns, blindness, and skin cancer, so sufferers must live their lives shielded from the day, and even from ordinary indoor light.

Christopher Snow lives at night, biking around his small town because he cannot drive, and befriending others who for one reason or another live on the edges of society or spend their waking hours in the darkness - his girlfriend, for example, is an overnight D.J. at a local radio station.

As the book opens, Christopher loses his father, his mother having died a few years earlier. And suddenly, "things" start to happen. A gun and a note are deposited on his bed. A friend calls him, frantic, and tries drunkenly to tell him a fragmented story of an evil taking place in a nearby deserted Army post. A troop of vicious monkeys stalk the streets of Moonlight Bay - monkeys with an unusual amount of intelligence as well as anger.

And Christopher finally realizes that his dog, Orson, isn't just his very special dog, he truly is a very special dog with more than typical doggie smarts.

So, a synopsis of the story aside, why do I say I am crazy about Dean Koontz? Several reasons.

First, I just finished editing a book by a talented first-time-out author (more about than in a future column!). Reading this book made me realize just how very talented Koontz is. A principal of good fiction writing is to "show, not tell." Neophyte writers will often just tell you what they want you to know rather than create scenes in which you learn what you need to know, but in an engrossing and entertaining fashion. Koontz can dig us deep into his characters' psyches, past, dreams, hopes, and intentions with a simple trip to the grocery store.

His vocabulary shimmers. Many writers are at a loss for how to  say "she said" over and over in a conversation without repeating the phrase, or torturing the alternatives. Koontz is a master of selecting novel ways to express the ordinary without his efforts seeming strained or calling attention to themselves.

His characters are multi-dimensional, while still being satisfyingly "good guys" or "bad guys." I like to see a few flaws in my heroes, but I have grown tired to the post-modern anti-hero who leaves me wondering, "Why am I reading about this person? He's awful!"

He sets his scenes well, providing just enough visual detail that we can imagine the location, feel the temperature, breathe the air. And he's extremely good at expressing tension and menace. It's subtle but disturbing - just what you want in a horror novel.

He loves dogs and frequently includes them as full-fledged characters in his books. Clearly a dog owner himself, he is a master at describing the animals' attitudes, mannerisms, (usually) sweet natures, and above all, their loyalty.

He typically includes at least one character who is not typical. In the Moonlight Bay books, Christopher Snow is struggling with a life-threatening, life-altering illness for which there is no cure. In another story, he features a mentally challenged main character. But he never condescends to these characters, or tries to wring pathos out of their plights.

And this leads me to the two things I most appreciate about this writer: he writes with heart, and with objectivity.

Unlike many popular novelists today, Koontz doesn't wear his political persuasions on his sleeve. Instead, he approaches issues of law and order with a rational, balanced hand. I would be hard-pressed to tell you  what his political affiliations are, in fact, and in an era when I feel so often preached to in the guise of a novel, Koontz allows his characters to make observations without  commenting on them. He has a character in this book, a black man who has become extremely rich as a successful businessman, and who is both good and eccentric. An odd, satisfying blend of anti-stereotypes.

And above all, Koontz writes with real emotion, not sentimentality. His characters suffer real pain in believable ways. They aren't spared life's miseries, and even if they succumb to a bout of self-pity, they generally man up and get on with it, do what must be done. Fear nothing - all the while fearing it like the devil, but persevering.

In short, he is a writer whose work persuades me that I would love to meet this man, and spend an hour or two in conversation with him, and a writer I can count on for an original, entertaining, frequently frightening, and ultimately uplifting story. Bravo!


Anonymous said…
I was just thinking about That Auction and you’ve really helped out. Thanks!
Anonymous said…
Surely a perfect piece of writing! We've book marked it and sent it out to all of my friends since I know they'll be intrigued, thank you very much!

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