Books: By the Light of the Moon

Perhaps it’s because I just finished reading By the Light of the Moon, but right now I think it’s the best Dean Koontz novel I have read. (And I actually did read it, not listen to the audiobook, because it wasn’t available on CD – though I forget how I happened to learn of the book and go find it on the shelf.)

It has a lot of elements that I like to find in books. Besides Koontz’s writing style, which I happen to particularly appreciate, it has suspense and paranormal phenomena (of course – this is a Dean Koontz book), some humor, and a bit of science fiction, including time travel. To round off the genres it borrows from, it even has superheroes (what else do you call people with special abilities who dash to the rescue of people in danger?).

The one thing it doesn’t have, which some of my other favorite Koontz novels do, is a dog. But really, a dog wouldn’t have fit in well with the circumstances of this book. Koontz’s dogs are appealing characters because they acts like real dogs, not people in canine bodies – and a dog with paranormal abilities would be too anthropomorphic.

I also like the fact that there are three primary characters. This means that Koontz can develop them through their interactions with one another, rather than having to rely on the narrator’s omniscience to tell what is going on in the character’s mind. It also allows for greater use of humor, and of characters learning from one another – always an important part of real life.

Moreover, there was nothing very predictable about this book. In a lot of suspense novels, including Koontz’s, circumstances interrupt someone’s life, there are dangers to overcome, a bad guy to catch – or to escape from, then in the end life can go more or less back to normal. In the best books (IMO) the character has grown in some way from the experience, but the suspense is primarily in how everything will work out, not the ultimate direction the book will take.

The changes that force themselves on Dylan, Shep, and Jilly in this novel, however, are so momentous that it is soon clear they cannot return to their former lives. They do a lot more than just keep on the run from the bad guys (along with developing unusual abilities, they discover a compulsion to help people in danger), but there are no early indications whether or how these encounters will contribute to the final outcome.

As what I might consider an added bonus in this book, one of the three primary characters is autistic. While he would be considered high-functioning autistic, his communicative capacity is quite limited – he talks but rarely engages in what could reasonably called conversation. At first he seems like a mere extra, an additional complication to the story and evidence of the good character of his older brother (who has cared for him since their mother was murdered ten years ago).

Shep plays an increasingly important role in the novel as it progresses, however, becoming essential to his two companions. At points it seems as though he is going to somehow emerge from the “Shep-world” he lives in, that only he knows and understands. But while unmistakable changes do take place in him, at the end of the book he is still very much hemmed in by his autism: he speaks mostly in single words, he stands in a corner to calm himself after too much sensory input, and his food must be served in cubes or rectangular shapes.

Jilly is perhaps the one who changes the most. Unlike Dylan, who endeavors to keep a positive outlook, believing in the power of the will (combined with right decisions and hard work) to shape one’s destiny, Jilly is a “vortex of pessimism.” A stand-up comedian, she uses human folly as fodder for her act, but she keeps her distance from other people, as evidenced by her choice of a potted plant as her “significant other.”

The relationship she develops with the O’Conner brothers is that of friendship born of the mutual need to survive, not any sort of romance. It is Jilly who wins Shep’s trust at crucial junctures where she and Dylan need his cooperation. Initially unwilling to take any risks she can avoid, by the end of the book she is being sought out by reporters for her very public heroism.

One reader review at complains of the abrupt ending (and speculates that Koontz is setting the stage for a sequel), but I found the climax and denouement quite satisfying (not least for the appearance of two unexpected characters). Important loose ends were tied up, but without seeming contrived. The ending was long enough to develop a clear mental picture of the final scenes, but not drawn out so as to become tiresome.

And if Koontz does write a sequel, I for one will look forward to reading it.


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