Phantoms (Dean Koontz)

At the beginning of this novel, the author has added an apology for writing it and I understand why. Phantoms is scary! There is something so extraordinarily powerful, capable of wiping out a whole town, capable of being everywhere at once, something omnipresent and omnipotent…and yet I had no clue what it was for a good chunk of the book. But I was aware that everyone in that town pretty much got their asses kicked (and worse), and I thanked my lucky stars that I wasn’t there with them. But I won’t give away any major plot spoilers.

The Californian town of Snowfield falls victim to an evil force. Almost everyone has disappeared and those that remain are not only dead, but have been horribly mutilated. It’s the kind of monster story that speaks to the imagination. What if it was real? Humans are fascinated by death and when a new and quite original “way to go” is introduced, it’s not only chilling but it also instils a sick curiosity of sorts. To me, that’s the appeal of this novel.

The main characters are the Paige sisters who discover the town in its current state, the local sheriff as the male hero, and in a slightly smaller role but not any less important, a scholar who unravels the truth. There are many extra characters, with nearly every one being interesting. But the attention mostly remains on the mystery and the action. Koontz is often incorrectly labelled as a horror author, but for this book that’s actually true for a change.

Koontz never really picks a definitive point of view to tell this story. The two leading roles are Jenny Paige and the sheriff, but many other characters get their own scenes. This switching is nice to get a bigger picture, but usually there’s too little time spent with each character to really feel an attachment with them. It’s almost the same feeling as with a slasher movie, where the camera follows each character for a while until they’re ultimately killed off one by one. Koontz is terse here, keeping sentences devoid of overabundant words or pretty phrases.

Instead, he just delivers the goods, action from page one. His writing style is not overdrawn, but instead is kept minimal to complement the story alone. I also like the spiritual questions that go unanswered throughout the book about the nature of evil and good, God and the Devil. Koontz gives multiple explanations of what this or that could be, and leaves the spiritual aspects unanswered in a way that both supports faith, and also keeps your imagination going well after the books closed, read and over. Highly recommended.

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