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July 2001
 
Book Reviews
Charles de Lint
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Books To Look For
by Charles de Lint

FROM THE CORNER OF HIS EYE - Dean Koontz
Bantam, 2000; 622pp; $26.95
Hardcover; ISBN 0-553-80134-1

One expects to meet some good people in a Koontz novel and From the Corner of His Eye proves to be no exception. One also expects a seriously unpleasant villain and the novel delivers on that count, too. What's different here is how much time Koontz (and therefore we, the readers) spend in the latter's company.

The sociopathic antagonist of this novel (I'd tell you his name but that would spoil a kicker of a scene at the beginning of the book) is as self-centered and amoral as the psychological designation I've given him and Koontz is dead-on in his depiction of the man. From the casual murders he commits, to the minutiae that fill his days, there's not a single false note.

This antagonist is a far cry from some of the (unfortunately) popular versions of such men to be found in callous books like American Psycho or Hannibal. And therefore he's much more realistic. He's not cultured and Sherlock Holmes-brilliant. Rather, as one of the characters in the book puts it, "The problem with movies and books is they make evil look glamorous, exciting, when it's no such thing. It's boring and it's depressing and it's stupid. Criminals are all after cheap thrills and easy money, and when they get them, all they want is more of the same, over and over. They're shallow, empty, boring people who couldn't give you five minutes of interesting conversation if you had the piss-poor luck to be at a party full of them. Maybe some can be monkey-clever some of the time, but they aren't hardly ever smart."

Though they usually, as the antagonist here does, think they are. Smarter, more cultured, more deserving of the good things in life because, well, it's owed to them, isn't it?

Now, more often that not in a Dean Koontz novel, there's equal time given to one, sometimes a couple, of strong positive characters, but as I've said, that isn't the case here. There are certainly many admirable, likable characters, but our time away from the antagonist is divided between them. There isn't the same singular focus on a good character as there is on the evil one.

This would normally trouble me since, as I mentioned in last issue's column, I'd just as soon not spend a lot of time in the company of such people--either in real life, or in the pages of a book. And as I got well into From the Corner of His Eye and realized how much time I was spending with the antagonist, I remember thinking to myself, do I really want to be reading this?

So much focus on this antagonist. And then these good people, some of them dying at his hand.

But I'm glad I kept reading because by the time I got to the end of this latest novel of Koontz's, I found myself filled with what I think is his greatest gift: the ability to infuse the reader with a profound sense of goodness and hope. Not sickly-sweet goodness, or mind-numbing hope, but a strong positive belief that there is much good to be found in the world and the people with whom we share it.

Considering how dark the morning paper or evening news can make our day with their of endless parades of disasters, large and small, this is no small gift indeed.

One last comment. The thing that keeps a discussion of Koontz's work relevant to our genre is that invariably the basis of his books grows out of a well-reasoned speculation based on some element of cutting edge science. In this case, he takes on quantum physics and he does a fabulous job of it as well.

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HAWK'S SCIENCE FICTION, FANTASY & HORROR: SERIES & SEQUELS - Pat Hawk
Hawk's Enterprises, 2001; 660pp; $55.95
Comb bound trade; ISBN 0-9643185-4-7

Ever wanted to know if a favorite book had a sequel--and how many? Or you like a TV show or movie and want to know if their stories are continued in a series of books?

If you have, then this is the book for you.

It's exhaustively comprehensive with titles listed from the 1700s through to the year 2000, each entry providing title, publisher, date of release, and by-line, including real names if known. The material covers most the British Commonwealth and the States, and has cross-over referencing to mystery, historical and romance series.

Mind you, you'd have to be a real bibliophile or scholar to actually want to own this. But it's an excellent reference volume and one you might consider convincing your local library to carry.

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THE CROW: WICKED PRAYER - Norman Partridge
HarperCollins, 2000; 295pp; $13.00
Trade paperback; ISBN 0-06-107349-0

I read this franchise novel for much the same reason I did the Buffy book discussed a few columns ago: I like the author and it's the kind of novel that will provide a stand-alone experience. Because of the way the Crow books are set up (the mythical Crow of James O'Barr's creation revives an unjustly murdered soul so that he or she can have their vengeance), there's plenty of room for character growth and original story.

In some ways I wasn't disappointed. There are many powerful scenes in this book, and I particularly liked the backstory of the protagonist: Dan Cody, murdered by a pair of amoral goth-punks while trying to rescue his girlfriend Leticia Dreams the Truth Hardin. But while the story of how the two met, how the loner that Cody was is befriended by Dr. Emily Carlisle, an arachnologist with the University of Arizona, how Carlisle plays matchmaker between Cody and Hardin, is wonderful, unfortunately, it takes up all too few pages of the book.

The novel begins with Cody on his way to Hardin's store, an engagement ring in his pocket and a proposal in his heart. Enter Kyra Damon and Johnny Church, the aforementioned sociopaths who have an animated shrunken head named Raymondo hanging from the mirror of their car, and the story turns ferociously cruel and doesn't much ease up again.

Partridge is like Joe Lansdale in many respects. He'll go as over-the-top at times as he thinks the story requires. I've appreciated his work in the past, and I'm sure I will again in the future, but this particular outing was just too unrelentingly brutal for my tastes.

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THROUGH SHATTERED GLASS - David B. Silva Gauntlet Publications, 2000; 263pp; $40.00 Hardcover; ISBN 1-887368-41-8 Unless you were a subscriber to the small-press zine The Horror Show, or presently subscribe to Hellnotes Newsletter (for more info on it, check out: www.hellnotes.com), you might not recognize editor David Silva's name. It's true that he had a few novels published in the late eighties/early nineties, and has had stories in a number of respected magazines and anthologies (from which the stories here are collected), but he has never been a prolific author.

And that's a pity because he's one of the better writers we have working in--I want to say the horror field, but that seems a somewhat limiting description. While he certainly plays the spooky/supernatural card, the real horrors in his stories come from cancers and Alzheimer's, from broken trusts and broken hearts and all the other unhappy hurts with which we can be afflicted.

His characters are ordinary, everyday people--just like you or me. He treats them with respect and writes from their points of view with affection--even those who are the most damaged. Hope isn't always present in his stories, but honesty is, and he certainly doesn't need to turn up the gore factor to make his points or get our attention. And he doesn't do so either.

I'm hard put to pick a favorite, but if pressed, I'd have to say it's "Dry Whiskey," with its spot-on portrayal of loyalty even in the face of seemingly insurmountable sorrow and loss. Like Springsteen says in his classic "Highway Patrolman," "Man turns his back on his family, well he just ain't no good."

But then there's "Dwindling," in which the oldest boy in a family watches his siblings disappear from the family history, one by one, and knows his own time is coming. Or the cancer victim in "Metastasis" who realizes that her body is more unhappy with her cure than the initial disease.

To be honest, there wasn't a bad story in here. They range from very good to astonishingly so, and my only word of advice would be to read them one at a time, rather than one after the other, all in a row, because they're powerful, moving pieces and you might well need time to recover your mental and emotional equilibrium before going on to the next.

But they are glorious examples of how high we can aim and succeed with meaningful fiction in this genre of ours.

I know, I know. I'm raving. But I can't help it. I've read many of these stories in their original appearances and rereading them here only reiterates my initial opinion as to just how good an author Silva is.

Need proof? Check out this first collection of his for yourself.

(A quick note: I'm reviewing this from a bound galley, but I assume that the finished book, which is in a signed/limited edition and has an introduction by Dean Koontz, will be up to Gauntlet Press's usual high standards.)

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Material to be considered for review in this column should be sent to Charles de Lint, P.O. Box 9480, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1G 3V2.

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