By Dean Koontz
“The dead don’t talk. I don’t know why.” But they do try to communicate, with a short-order cook in a small desert town serving as their reluctant confidant. Odd Thomas thinks of himself as an ordinary guy, if possessed of a certain measure of talent at the Pico Mundo Grill and rapturously in love with the most beautiful girl in the world, Stormy Llewellyn.
Maybe he has a gift, maybe it’s a curse, Odd has never been sure, but he tries to do his best by the silent souls who seek him out. Sometimes they want justice, and Odd’s otherworldly tips to Pico Mundo’s sympathetic police chief, Wyatt Porter, can solve a crime. Occasionally they can prevent one. But this time it’s different.
A mysterious man comes to town with a voracious appetite, a filing cabinet stuffed with information on the world’s worst killers, and a pack of hyena-like shades following him wherever he goes. Who the man is and what he wants, not even Odd’s deceased informants can tell him. His most ominous clue is a page ripped from a day-by-day calendar for August 15.
Today is August 14.
In less than twenty-four hours, Pico Mundo will awaken to a day of catastrophe. As evil coils under the searing desert sun, Odd travels through the shifting prisms of his world, struggling to avert a looming cataclysm with the aid of his soul mate and an unlikely community of allies that includes the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll. His account of two shattering days when past and present, fate and destiny converge is the stuff of our worst nightmares, and a testament by which to live: sanely if not safely, with courage, humor, and a full heart that even in the darkness must persevere.
This book broke my heart.
I did not see that coming.
I decided to read this book because I saw an advertisement for the final installment in the Odd Thomas series, realized it was by Dean Koontz who I used to read voraciously as a teen, so decided to try out the first in the series, Odd Thomas.
It’s charming book, which may be a strange descriptor for a tale about a young man who sees ghosts and other supernatural beings, and attempts to right wrongs. The very first scene is Odd Thomas waking up to find a girl sitting on his front steps. She silently walks with him to the street where they encounter a car driven by a former classmate. Through feelings instead of words, Odd figures out the man killed this girl. He chases him and is eventually able to corner him for the police to capture.
Then Odd goes to work at a diner where he is a short order cook.
Odd is a nice young man. It’s a trite term, ‘nice’, but wholly appropriate for Odd. He is a good guy. He cares about people. He wants to do the right thing. He has created a life for himself that includes people who know (to some degree, at least) about his abilities and they support him. He has found his soul mate, a girl named Stormy who wants to open her own ice cream shop. He craves a simple life because anything more might be too difficult with his special abilities.
In many ways Odd Thomas reminds me of a superhero. He has a gift – in this case, the ability to see the dead and communicate to some degree, along with a psychic ability that manifests as a gut feeling – and struggles to use it wisely while balancing a normal life and hiding his gift. With all the stories these days of anti-heroes, which can be terrific (I’m thinking of you, Walter White), it was refreshing to read a story about a good guy trying to do the right thing.
Despite the periodic chase-down of a killer, Odd’s day is normal until a man comes into his diner accompanied by several shades. These shadowy figures are not ghosts. They seem to flock to where acts of great violence will occur. Odd is immediately on edge and can’t help but follow his gut which tells him to look into this man. Odd searches his home and finds what could be a portal to hell. The man also maintains cabinets full of files on famous serial killers. Not good.
The man begins to follow Odd, which is concerning as Odd is visiting his friend and his girlfriend. He doesn’t want this maniac near them. He returns to his apartment to find the man dead in his bathtub. It had been a ghost following him all day, yet another instance where a ghost’s inability to speak is not apparent due to circumstances. With the stranger, he was never close enough for Odd to think he would hear him.
A gun is in Odd’s apartment in an attempt to frame him for the murder. Then the police chief who knows Odd’s secret gets a late night call on his private line and is shot on his front porch, another attempt to frame Odd. He is unsure what to do next now that it is obvious people are working to keep him away from whatever event is calling those shades into abundance.
Then he remembers his recurring dream. Based on small details, he thinks he knows what will happen and tries to take steps to help those he loves avoid the location the next day. But as we know with prophetic dreams, they are never perfect. The details are correct but the location is wrong. Odd figures it out and deals with the atrocity as best he can.
And just when I think everything has turned out okay – or, as okay as it could have been – Odd Thomasbroke my heart. I don’t want to spoil it but I also really want to talk about it. Here’s my compromise:
When I write something, such as a play or a story, the feeling I describe that I most often want to evoke is breaking someone’s heart. It might be the ending. It might just be a single moment inside a bigger story. But affecting someone in that manner means the storyteller has drawn you in so deep into the character’s world that their pain becomes yours.
Dean Koontz, my hat is off to you, sir. Well done.