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Dean Koontz: A Confession

I have always been what might be called, whimsically and tongue-in-cheek, a “pre-Vatican II” reader. I don’t trust anything or almost anything written since 1960, Solzhenitsyn being a noble exception.

Detail from the book cover of "Odd Thomas", a novel by best-selling author Dean Koontz.

I have a confession to make. It relates to a longstanding sin of omission. Here I am in my sixtieth year and I can claim to have the dubious distinction of never having read any of the novels of Dean Koontz. “Big deal,” I would have said for most of those sixty years, “who cares?” Why should I waste my time reading contemporary pulp fiction when the great books of western civilization are beckoning? Why add Dean Koontz or Stephen King to my library when I can take Dante and Shakespeare from the shelf?

Such reasoning is fair enough, up to a point. We only have so many years allotted to us and we know that we will die with a long list of unread books, which would have nourished us had we read them. We need to be selective.

But there’s another reason, which is not quite as objective or laudable. The truth is that I have always been what might be called, whimsically and tongue-in-cheek, a “pre-Vatican II” reader. I don’t trust anything or almost anything written since 1960, Solzhenitsyn being a noble exception.

It is true that over the past twenty years or so I have tried to keep my finger on the pulse of contemporary Catholic culture. As the editor of the St. Austin Review, a Catholic cultural journal which claims on its cover to be “reclaiming culture”, it is needful that I have some idea of what’s going on currently. I’ve read contemporary Catholic fiction, which is mostly published by Catholic publishers, in the knowledge that this is the counterculture of the catacombs. These authors would never be published by today’s secular publishers, all of which have succumbed to agenda-driven intolerance, nor would these authors ever make the New York Times Bestseller List. It is those titles which have made the List which I have consciously spurned as not being worthy of my time.

I had heard people whom I trust tell me that Stephen King was a great storyteller, or that Dean Koontz was not only a great storyteller but that his works were suffused with a Catholic moral sensibility. All to no avail.

And then, a few years ago, I was in correspondence with another New York Times bestselling author, Tim Powers, and was intrigued that such a devout Catholic could be so successful in the crass world of contemporary secular culture. What was his secret? Desiring to find out, I asked him which of his novels would he recommend as a good place to get to know his work. He suggested Declare, a spy thriller with supernatural undertones, which encapsulated the genre of what might be called supernatural realism. It was so good, spanning Europe and its recent history, from the Spanish Civil War and occupied Paris during World War II, to London, Berlin, Moscow and the Middle East, all impeccably well-researched and all interwoven with supernatural and spiritual significance. Almost immediately I read a second of his novels, Last Call, which plumbs the ultimately demonic depths of Las Vegas and its denizens.

Tim Powers suggested that I also read the novels of Dean Koontz, recommending Koontz’s novel Odd Thomas, which now sits on my shelf, gathering dust and staring at me reproachfully whenever I notice it. This sense of guilt was brought to the surface as I read an excellent interview with Mr. Koontz in the Epoch Times. My attention was grabbed by this depiction of the power of stories, plucked from Mr. Koontz’s latest novel: “Bella could not live without stories. Stories were the blessing of intelligence. They were food for the soul. They were medicine. You could live a thousand lives through stories – and learn to shape your own life into a story of the best kind.” This was enough to get me to read on.

The interviewer, Fred J. Eckert, describes the new novel, Devoted, as harnessing Koontz’s “gift for mesmerizing storytelling honoring essential virtues and values”. Without ever succumbing to the preachiness which is the death of all good storytelling, Mr. Koontz explains that his works explore “the divinely inspired moral imperative to love” that he says “we carry within us”. Mr. Eckert affirms that the works of Dean Koontz “celebrate the triumph of good over evil, the dignity of the individual, the hope of

becoming better, and the wonders of the world around us and within our minds”. If it is true that Mr. Koontz conveys all of this in his novels with a “gift for mesmerizing storytelling”, it is evident that my neglect of his work has indeed been a sin of omission.

“I want to extravagantly entertain readers,” says Mr. Koontz, “while making them feel the wonder of life and consider its profound mysteries. I want readers to feel that meaning – therefore hope – is woven into the fabric of the physical universe….” Having read this overarching philosophy, which breathes life into his work, we are not surprised to learn that Mr. Koontz is a believing Catholic, though I have no idea where he stands on what might be called the ecclesial spectrum. “Some writers without faith tend to produce works that are angry and despairing,” he states. “I’d rather never have been a writer than to spend my life in the grip of such negative emotions.” This is as good a guarantee as one could wish that his books are devoid of the nihilistic iconoclasm that possesses most modern fiction.

And what of his gifts as a writer? Is he proud or presumptuous after having published more than a hundred novels, which have been translated into 38 languages and which have sold collectively in excess of 500 million copies? “Talent is a grace,” he says. “Having done nothing to earn it, I feel a moral obligation to refine it and employ it to the greatest extent I can.” Though it’s not for me to judge, I’d be tempted to say that a writer who devotes this sort of humble service to the gifts-given, might be considered a good and worthy servant.

Another intriguing fact about Mr. Koontz’s deeper philosophy, which heartened me greatly, is his agreement with Vladimir Nabokov that the ideas of Sigmund Freud and Karl Mark were the two most evil influences on our own times. “Freud strove to relieve the individual of responsibility for his actions,” he explains, “and Marx strove to make each of us a servant of the state.” The evil that these ideas have wrought on contemporary society are plain for all to see. “The consequence of each ideology – and especially the two in concert – is mental disorder, moral insanity, society-wide despair, and mass murder.”

When asked which of his numerous books he liked best, Mr. Koontz named Odd Thomas, the one that Tim Powers had recommended to me, as one of his favourites. Having read this edifying interview, I have less excuse than ever to remain obstinate in my sin of omission. I will be taking Odd Thomas from the shelf soon, cracking open its pages and entering the extravagantly hopeful world of Dean Koontz.


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About Joseph Pearce 16 Articles
Joseph Pearce is the author of numerous literary works including Literary Converts, The Quest for Shakespeare and Shakespeare on Love,Poems Every Catholic Should Know (TAN Books) and Literature: What Every Catholic Should Know (Augustine Institute/Ignatius Press), and the editor of the Ignatius Critical Editions series. His other books include literary biographies of Oscar Wilde, J.R.R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, G. K. Chesterton and Alexander Solzhenitsyn. A native of England, he is Director of Book Publishing at the Augustine Institute, editor of the St. Austin Review, editor of Faith & Culture, and is Senior Contributor at The Imaginative Conservative. Visit his website at jpearce.co.

14 Comments

  1. Having read all of the Odd Thomas novels, I predict that Pearce will find them (if he reads more than one) entertaining and worthwhile. And my thanks to him for the information on Koontz.

  2. My first encounter with Dean Koontz was his “Frankenstein” trilogy – only because I happened to read a review somewhere. I had no idea who he was.
    Half-way through the first book it became very evident to me that he was Catholic. My research confirmed this. His writings expound Catholic theology better than almost any fiction I have ever read. I now have read about a dozen of his novels. I HIGHLY recommend him!!

  3. In 2012 I lost my son while he was deployed in Afghanistan. This quote by Dean Koontz had a huge effect on me…from an “Odd Thomas” book:

    “Loss is the hardest thing,” I said. “But it’s also the teacher that’s the most difficult to ignore”. “Grief can destroy you – or focus you. You can decide a relationship was all for nothing, if it had to end in death – and you alone.
    Or you can realize that every moment of it had more meaning than you dared to recognize at the time, so much meaning it scared you, so you just lived, just took for granted the love and laughter of each day, and didn’t allow yourself to consider the sacredness of it
    But when it’s over and you’re alone, you begin to see it wasn’t just a movie and dinner together, not just watching sunsets together, not just scrubbing a floor or washing dishes together or worrying over a high electric bill. It was everything; it was the why of life, every event and precious moment of it.
    The answer to the mystery of existence is the love you shared sometimes so imperfectly, and when the loss wakes you to the deeper beauty of it, to the sanctity of it, you can’t get off your knees for a long time. You’re driven to your knees not by the weight of the loss but by the gratitude for what preceded the loss.
    And the ache is always there, but one day not the emptiness. Because to nurture the emptiness – to take solace in it, is to disrespect the gift of life”.

    • Greg Fazzari ,
      I’m so very sorry about your son & I said a prayer for you when I read your comments here. Please know how grateful & blessed America has been for brave men like your son who put service to country above their own personal safety. I hope we remember that especially this Memorial Day.

      Thank you so much for sharing that book passage, it’s very true & very touching.
      May God bless you & always keep you close to Him.
      🙂

    • I often find passages in his books that make me want to cry, they’re so beautifully written. One in “Odd Thomas” comes to mind immediately. I think what “Odd Thomas” does best is show the power of goodness against both natural and supernatural evil, and that natural evil is in some ways even worse than supernatural evil.

  4. I can perhaps go you one better. I have not only not read a single word written by Dean Koontz, I have absolutely no recollection of ever having heard his name before now. I do know the name Steven King and I think he lives somewhere in the state of Maine, but again, I never read anything he wrote. I have read Solzhenitsyn, in fact almost every thing he ever penned. I think I became an intellectual Luddite decades ago when I read James Joyce’s Ulysses followed up by his Finnegan’s Wake (the entire book, aided by a reader’s key). It struck me that, if these two disastrously repulsive tomes had garnered such clamorous praise among modern critics, then these critics were probably just as wrong about most other current books they were reviewing and making popular. Better to stick, I concluded, with authors who have weathered the test of time. I’ve never wavered from that thought.

  5. Some years ago I saw Raymond Arroyo interview Koontz on EWTN. I determined to read one of his books. Today is the day.

  6. I read ALL of the Odd Thomas series, and loved them all…and I’m not typically fond of modern literature, either. For pure ( in every sense of the word) pleasure, I’ve read nothing better.

  7. It should be noted that Dean Koontz’s laudatory blurbs appear on the back cover of volumes 1, 2 and 4 of Fr Spitzer’s quartet, “Happiness, Suffering and Transcendence – at least in my Ignatius Press edition.

  8. I like some novels by Koontz, not all. Sometimes they’re a bit too close to the horror genre, which I find tedious. When he keeps it “human” without spending so much of his real talent on monsters (which, it could be argued, may represent real demonic forces), I really enjoy reading him. He likes strange characters and paints them brilliantly, but his greatest skill lies in his plot construction, and that’s the real strength of good storytelling.

  9. what of Michael Obrien, Marylyn Roberson ? but yes Dean K is worth it.
    and a big yes on modern literature mostly,it presumes no importance to anything of the life of the soul. Joyce and Nabokov are on the edge,as their great talents,prescribe the desire for joy,but not the object.

  10. I love many of Dean Koontz books, but occasionally some of his earlier books (pre-80’s) are a bit too gratuitous for me. However, “One Door Away from Heaven”, most of the “Odd Thomas” series (I didn’t particularly like the second book), “Fear Nothing”, “Seize the Night”, “Watchers”, “Midnight” and “Phantoms” are among my favorites.

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