The Darkest Evening of the Year – Dean Koontz (2007, Bantam Books)
I know, I know, that’s not a very courteous way to begin a book review. Trouble is, that’s the first thing I said when, for the last time, I closed the cover of Dean Koontz’ novel The Darkest Evening of the Year. Urgh. Let me tell you why….
Dean Koontz has a beautiful writing style (one I’m quite envious of); I love his gift of description and he’s definitely no slouch when it comes to driving a story forward, making the reader clamour for more. He’s written a gazillion books and has a gazillion fans – and if you give any of his work a gander, it’s blatantly obvious that the man is talented. The Darkest Evening of the Year is no exception; I loved it well enough to want to gulp it down in one sitting.
Poetic and beautiful in places, violent and morbid in others, the whole book balances on the old good versus evil struggle. Amy Redwing, a woman with a deep dark past that she’s managed to keep secret for nearly a decade, is a woman with a mission: she rescues golden retriever dogs for a living, and her compassion is selfless and, well, a little reckless (just ask her accountant). Amy is in a relationship with a successful architect named Brian, and while the two of them have been together for awhile, they’re hesitant of the next step toward commitment. Into Amy and Brian’s world comes a mysterious golden retriever dog named Nickie – and it seems that the dog is connected to whatever terrible secret Amy is hiding. (Oh, and whatever secret Brian is hiding, too, as it turns out he has some skeletons in the closet as well). When the seriously nasty antagonists from their pasts finally catch up with Amy and Brian, really awful stuff goes down – and the resolution of the mystery that connects the lovers is actually rather clever. And the subplot – which I cannot divulge for fear of spoiling the book for someone – is interesting as well, containing a series of bad guys with really fascinating personality quirks.
So, really, I did enjoy the book, EXCEPT…it’s way too heavyhanded with the dog rescue thing. I do believe that fiction can (and should) be a forum to present serious issues for consideration, but this was so repetitive and insistent that I felt positively flogged with the subject. It was exhausting to read, and unnecessary. (I do understand, however, that Koontz wanted to honour the memory of his beloved golden retriever, Trixie, and pay homage to the breed. Fond sentimentality would be wonderful and sufficient; beating the reader over the head isn’t).
But the biggest thing I had an issue with is that this is a fantasy novel masquerading as a thriller. The way I construed it is entirely my fault, I know – it’s not like the book jacket lied to me or anything. My disappointment rests in the fact that it wasn’t what I felt it SHOULD be, and while that’s maybe a bit unreasonable of me as a reader, I somehow felt like I was owed an ending that didn’t smack of the supernatural or quasi-religious (read: too tidy to be bought). It’s not like Koontz didn’t prepare me – he did keep dropping little hints throughout the entire book. I just stubbornly wanted realism, not fantasy (or I wanted my fantasy to be a bit more realistic, more like). But that’s just me…the way it all boils down may be another reader’s perfect cup of tea. If you’ve read it, let me know your thoughts!