“Odd Thomas,” written by Dean Koontz, is one of those books I wanted very much to enjoy, but just didn’t. It is the kind of story I should have found gripping, but, like a spirit almost ready to leave this world behind, I often found myself close to “letting go.”
“Odd Thomas” is the name of the title character, a short-order fry cook in his early 20s in a fictional California desert city who has an unusual ability: he can see the spirits of the dead, those who haven’t been able to “move on” for one reason or another. They cannot talk to him, but some do find ways to communicate with him, in order to lead him to the person or persons who killed them, or otherwise solve the mystery of their death. Odd uses this ability to aid the small local police department. The local police chief is a good friend and knows of Odd’s talent, as does Odd’s girlfriend, “Stormy,” and a few close others. (His parents are not among that group.)
The plot surrounds Odd’s realization that something very bad is about to happen in his town, “Pico Mundo,” when he sees a somewhat disconcerting man and then begins to notice “bodachs” luking about town. Bodachs are creatures (Odd isn’t sure if they’re spirits, demons, or something else) that appear when bad things happen. Odd frequently sees one or two, but now dozens and even hundred are appearing. They don’t involve themselves in the disaster, but they like to watch, and their growing numbers give Odd an urgent sense of desperation to prevent whatever they’re here to “enjoy.”
No spoilers, but there is a serious threat our hero must prevent. He succeeds, but only mostly and at great cost to himself and others, fitting for a horror novel.
My problems with this book are twofold: first, I’m convinced there is a superb short story hidden within this plodding, overwritten novel. I only wish Mr. Koontz had realized that. I often found myself thinking “get on with it.”
Second, the writing style put me off almost completely. Told first-person from Odd’s point of view, his narrative is very straightforward, almost formal, and at times overly descriptive, like a talented but undisciplined young writer. His own personality is odd, of course, and studiously even-tempered, polite and again formal. While Koontz makes clear why he made these choices over the course of the novel, I found the execution off-putting, almost dull, and even annoying.
Others obviously disagree with me; this is the first book in a popular series and it has been made into a movie. But, in comparison to the works of masters of horror and occult fiction, such as Charles Beaumont, Richard Matheson, and Ramsey Campbell, I found “Odd Thomas” bland and lacking.