A couple weeks ago I started a fascinating book from the library – but this week it lay forgotten on the table because I had found Dean Koontz’ latest book about Odd Thomas. Most of the time I wait to get a book at the library, but this is one series that I’m likely to reread, because as a narrator Odd tells such a good story.
Odd (that is his given name, supposedly due to a typo on his birth certificate) is a fry cook, a job at which he excels. He has given thought to becoming a tire salesman if he ever gets tired of being a fry cook, as it sounds like an undemanding job where he could keep a low profile.
Odd’s lack of higher career ambitions stems from the fact that his life is already complicated enough, due to his unusual gifts. He sees dead people, the lingering souls who have not yet passed on to wherever it is that the dead go when they leave this world. Sometimes they are afraid to face whatever that is. But those who seek out Odd are usually murder victims seeking out justice. Tracking down their killers tends to get Odd in some very tight spots. But he believes that having this gift, however unwanted it may be, he is obliged to do what he can to protect the innocent – those potential future victims of these same killers.
Odd also sees strange phantoms that seem to flock to places where great suffering will soon occur, and he tries to find out enough, soon enough, to prevent it. Since what glimpses of the future he sees in dreams are fragmentary, he finds, to his grief, that he cannot prevent the evil acts entirely, but their devastation is far less because of his intervention.
In this fourth Odd Thomas book, there are few dead souls lingering about (primarily Frank Sinatra, and a dog named Boo, the only instance Odd knows of where a non-human soul lingers – apparently to be a companion and help to Odd). But there are too many living conspirators, planning some evil so terrible that Odd kept dreaming of a sea engulfed in fire. Guided by the “psychic magnetism” that leads him to people he needs to find, he quickly finds himself in over his head trying to prevent some unknown catastrophe.
It’s good reading – I finished it in three days and would have read it faster if I had had the time. I found it, like the previous two, somewhat inferior to the first book, Odd Thomas, that introduced him to the world. I don’t know if that is because, as some readers claim, Koontz is churning books out too fast to meet the publisher’s demands, reusing a successful formula rather than doing something genuinely original in each book. Or perhaps that is just the way of series – like people, they change over time, and expecting a series to finish as it started may be as foolish as wanting a friend or family member to remain frozen in time as the person we first met all those years ago.
There are some readers who like this Odd Thomas book the best. It is fast-moving (most of the time – it does bog down a couple times), with little opportunity for Odd to engage in the sort of philosophical reflection about life that marked previous books. There are a couple passages, though, that stood out for me enough that I mentally bookmarked them so I could go back later and find them.
In one passage, Odd has been explaining that he boarded the boat (where the bad guys were) with no plan. “As you know, I make it up as I go along, heart in my throat and bowels quivering near a state of collapse. Over the years, I have found that my seat-of-the-pants approach works well. Except when it doesn’t.” Then he adds these lines:
By doing, I learn what to do. By going, I learn where to go. One day, by dying, I’ll learn how to die, and leave the world and hope to land in light.
That pretty much sums up Odd’s approach to life. Except that one also needs to understand his willingness – or perhaps something stronger, his determination – to get involved in situations confronting people whose evil dwarfs the sort most of us typically encounter. Noting that most criminals are not exactly the brightest among us, and evil geniuses are rare, he poses the question, “Why do so many bad people get away with so many crimes?” And he answers it with Edmund Burke’s answer, The only necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.
But Odd adds more to that, knowing that modern society has been conditioned to abstain from making moral judgments on others.
It is also essential that good men and women not be educated and propagandized into believing that real evil is a myth and that all malevolent behavior is merely the result of a broken family’s or a failed society’s shortcomings, amenable to cure by counseling and by the application of new economic theory.
Odd doesn’t get bogged down by such somber reflections, however. His story is full of wry humor, surprising twists, and occasional moments of grace that keep hope alive.