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Books Review (more than one)
The Odd Thomas Sequels
by Dean Koontz
Odd Thomas is a great character. The original story was well crafted. It took the reader in unexpected directions. This is partly because the character and the world was new. That’s what makes origin stories so fun, and sequels less so. Koontz spent a lot of time sculpting the character of Odd Thomas. He had to, it was the first that the readers knew of him. In sequels, it is often the case that the author will use shorthand to remind loyal readers of the attributes of the main character, while at the same time introducing him or her to new readers. This is not easy; you have to satisfy both audiences. Most authors will nod to the new readers while playing to the loyal ones. This makes perfect sense to me.
I recently binge read Odd Hours, Odd Interlude, Odd Apocalypse, and Deeply Odd. I had already read Forever Odd and Brother Odd a bunch of years ago. I have been binge reading lately, as I mentioned a couple of weeks back. I remembered how much I enjoyed the first Odd Thomas book, and how satisfied I was, though less-so, with the two sequels I had read. Sometimes binge reading affords you a different perspective. In my case, since I was craving the character and description, I was quite satisfied. At the same time, I was disappointed in the plot.
My good friend, JT, wrote recently about Robert B. Parker’s later Spenser novels. In the later novels, it seemed like Parker was cutting descriptions, “Everything except dialogue and action is pared away.” This can happen with sequels, especially popular sequels, with many die-hard fans waiting eagerly for the next exciting tale of their favorite character. This is not entirely the case with the Odd Thomas series, however. What I enjoy about Koontz are his descriptions. A simple example below from Odd Hours,
“To the south, swords of light dueled in the fog, seeking me.”
Short, pointed, evocative, I can imagine the flashlights in the fog. I can see in my mind’s eye the beams crossing, searching. I imagine the tension and the fear. All this done with a dozen words. This is what kept me coming back. But the plot, or lack thereof, made it a chore for me to finish the last one.
Koontz relies on what he calls “psychic magnetism” in his stories. In the first novel, I was willing to accept the concept. It was new. It still felt like laziness (to be completely honest), but it was written well. It put the main character in the right place at the right time. But the difference in the first novel was that our hero had to then do some work to figure out what was really going on. It put him in the line of the plot, but then he had to figure out why he was where he was, dig into the mysteries of the antagonists, and figure out how to thwart them. The later stories feel like the reader is on rails. The plot lines are mysterious, yes. But I didn’t feel like I had enough meat to the story, or enough time knowing the characters, to want to put 2 and 2 together. Below is a description of psychic magnetism in Deeply Odd (one of the later books)
“If I need to find someone and don’t know where he is at the moment, I concentrate on his name or picture his face in my mind’s eye, and then I walk or bicycle or drive around at random, until psychic magnetism draws me to him. Usually I find him within half an hour.”
The description is very much like in the first novel. It might just as well have been copied and pasted. So why is the experience different? In the first novel, the antagonist appears after using the ability. But Thomas observes from a distance. The mystery takes time to reveal itself. Indeed, you don’t know till the very last pages what the antagonists are actually plotting. But in the latter books, it seems like he is thrust into conflict immediately. In Deeply Odd, Thomas is confronted by “the cowboy” in chapter one, “You think I won’t do it right here in the open.” His psychic magnetism puts him in the enemy’s sights again in chapter two. No reason, no mystery, no slowly peeling the onion to the big reveal.
As my friend JT wrote, “[the first novel is] the one you go back to over and over, writing and rewriting. But, if that first book is a hit, there’s no incentive to do the same with the sequels. The publisher doesn’t care, the fans don’t care.” That seems to be the case here. I read the books eagerly. I enjoyed them quite a bit. I could have enjoyed them more if Kootz had taken a little more care on his plot as well as his fine descriptions.