Books: The Voice of the Night

The Voice of the Night is different from other Dean Koontz books I have read in some significant ways. The main characters are teenagers, 14-year-old boys whose parents leave them largely unsupervised (it takes place during summer vacation). There is weirdness, certainly, but only the weirdness of the human mind, with no supernatural or sci-fi elements. And the bad guy may not be all bad.

There are some very disturbing aspects to the book, and for a while I wasn’t sure I would finish it. Roy, the handsome and popular boy everyone likes and admires, is secretly a cold-blooded killer. He delights in thoughts of mayhem and death, and wants to turn his fantasies into reality. As he discusses plans to torture, rape, and kill a young mother, it seems clear that he does not have a shred of conscience.

His best friend Collin is the typical nerd – shy, terribly nearsighted, a weakling physically and emotionally, taking refuge in books and movies to escape from a world he doesn’t fit into. Having never had a good friend before, when he experiences the sense of belonging that goes with being friends with the most popular kid in school, he is determined that nothing will make him give that up.

If Collin had let Roy turn him into a monster like himself, I don’t think I would have finished the book. That would really have been a horror story. But when Collin finally realizes the truth about Roy (the reader wants to shake Collin and scream at him when he takes so long to catch on), that Roy is not joking but deadly serious about wanting to kill, Collin shows that he is not so weak as everyone (including Collin himself) thought he was.

I’m not sure how convincing the whole story is. Customer reviews at amazon.com complain about unrealistic dialog, and I wondered about it myself, but I have no way of knowing how 14-year-old boys really do talk among themselves. (If nothing else, the book is a reminder to parents how little they may know about what really goes on in the minds of their teenage sons.) More than that, how realistic is the psychology of the two boys?

Roy appears to be a classic sociopath, but Collin is convinced that he is not all bad. At one point (sci-fi fan that he is), he decides that Collin has been possessed by an alien from another planet. Koontz never makes it clear when that particular illusion is abandoned. Later in the book, parental abuse seems to be the primary culprit in twisting Roy’s soul. At the end, psychiatry is held up as the hope for fixing what is wrong with him.

Collin also recovers remarkably quickly from the fears (of darkness and all the monsters that he is convinced truly come out when darkness falls) that have always plagued him. Reading a book on psychology (in order to understand Roy better) gives him insight into himself. That kind of self-understanding makes a difference, but can it really wipe out the deeply seated emotional habits of a lifetime?

Those concerns aside, it’s a gripping story, though I’m not sure I could use the word “entertaining.” The “voice of the night” that for most of the book seems to be the strange sounds of evil that only Collin can hear, are in the end seen to be the voices of evil that every one of us hears. In Collin they had produced fear; in Roy they produced hatred and violence.

The book ends with an interesting statement, that the most important job we have in life is to ignore those voices. I suppose ignoring them is better than listening to them, but are those the only options? As a Christian I believe that “the Truth sets us free.” The answer isn’t to act as though the voices of evil aren’t there, but to overcome them with the greater voice of Truth.

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