23. A book by an author you’ve never given a fair shot: Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz
List Progress: 18/30
There’s something to be said for fast-paced books; it takes a particular reader to want to slowly savor each page of a novel, and books aiming for a wide audience need to catch and keep people’s attention, racing from one plot point to the next. Dean Koontz is the famous author of over one hundred novels, so he clearly knows how to hook a reader. But sometimes fast pacing can go too far, and the number of things a character does in a short period of time becomes absurd. The paranormal thriller Odd Thomas, with a page-count of over four hundred, takes place entirely in under thirty hours, aside from a weeks-later coda at the end. Koontz crams so much action into those thirty hours that it beggars belief, even with a main character who can see the dead. But whenever Odd Thomas the character and Odd Thomas the book slow down for a moment, the results are often lovely.
Odd (yes, that is his given first name) is a twenty-year old fry cook in the small desert town of Pico Mundo. He has the power to see both the spirits of the deceased, wandering the world as silent specters, and shadowy beings called bodachs, that congregate around people or places that are soon going to experience explosive and extensive violence. With a strict moral code, Odd uses his gift to solve murders, passing along clues to the incredibly-understanding police chief. When a stranger comes to town and is surrounded by bodachs, Odd knows he has to investigate the strange man and stop whatever carnage he has in store.
The biggest pacing issue comes in the beginning, when Odd solves an unrelated murder. It is clearly there to illustrate his powers and practices to the audience, but over such a short period of time, it is jarring that everyone from Odd to the police to the neighborhood seem to have forgotten about the morning’s violent hostage situation by lunchtime. Odd and his fiancee Stormy are charming (even if neither reads remotely like a twenty-year-old), but their moments of tranquility feel oddly placed against a ticking clock. Odd learns early on that the upcoming disaster will happen the following day, but characters rarely treat the threat with the urgency it deserves, even if they believe him about his powers. It is all a bit, well, odd.
The villain at the heart of the story is fairly lightly-sketched and could have wandered out of an episode of Criminal Minds. The genuinely scarier moments are flashbacks to Odd’s abusive childhood, which are painted with a great deal of nuance and detail. There are several more books in the series, and exploring Odd as a character seems like the strongest selling point for continuing. The pacing is broken, the townspeople are a little too quirky, and the dialogue is cute-to-a-fault, but there is enough good meat here to be worth reading. Especially if you have a lot of time to spend in an airport.
Would I Recommend It: Soft yes.