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'Seize The Night' by Dean Koontz

Koontz seizes moment to write creepy thriller

Friday, January 01, 1999

By Allan Walton, Assistant Managing Editor/Arts & Entertainment

 
 

Seize The Night

By Dean Koontz

Bantam
$26.95

   
 

Let’s begin with a tiny mea culpa.

Last time out, Dean Koontz had yet another smash with “Fear Nothing.” Though I suspect the terror tycoon could write out a grocery list and find himself atop the best sellers, the novel represented a risk of sorts.

He introduced his fans to what would become his first recurring character, Christopher Snow, an I-only-come-out-at-night hero who, because of a rare, light-sensitive condition known as xeroderma pigmentosum (mercifully shortened to XP), trades sunshine for shadows to extend what will likely be his short life.

What’s more, he fixed up Snow with a razor-witted girlfriend (a disc jockey named Sasha) and a smack-talkin’ surfer pal (Bobby Halloway). All three, plus Snow’s trusty canine friend Orson, roam the creepy confines of coastal Moonlight Bay.

Then he mixed up everything by plunging into a tale of intra-species gene therapy, leaving the more customary Koontz tales of psychological trauma and travail in his wake.

Well, to cut to the chase, I dumped on poor Dean with a vengeance I now regret. A bit. I’d found the plot so convoluted and farcical, you couldn’t begin to make a pie out of the words I chose not to mince.

Not that it mattered. Other reviewers lavished “Fear Nothing” with praise, and readers lavished it with dollars. As for me, I went on to read what seemed like another 100 books last year that were little more than variations of a theme. Trust me when I say nefarious experiments in genetic engineering are big biz in the book world.

Fortunately, I did confess affinity for Koontz’s characters. And that brings us (at long last, I hear you snapping) to his new novel, “Seize the Night.” It’s a sequel, reuniting us with the same cast and an extension of the same plot.

And I loved it.

Already a best seller, Koontz hits the ground running this time out, sucking Snow and his cohorts into the intrigue of an abandoned military base and the experiments run amok in nearly every nook and cranny. By just the third paragraph, we learn that a 5-year-old named Jimmy Wing has vanished, setting the stage for our hipster crew to be called to action. As much as our protagonist would like to believe this is no Snow job, he’s too much the hero to back down. And, of course, it doesn’t hurt that Jimmy’s mother is a former lover and current friend.

Jimmy is not the only abducted child, we discover. And all trails lead to Fort Wyvern, the base where a series of secret experiments years earlier continue to fester in the form of genetic mutations — super-smart rhesus monkeys, snakes, coyotes and the occasional odd human. Emphasis on the odd.

Even Snow’s dog Orson has smarts. Were it not for those pesky doorknobs, he might have had a shot at getting into Stanford.

Snow’s deceased mother, we learned last book and again in “Seize the Night,” had a lot to do with these experiments. The noble premise — and there’s always a noble premise — had to do with a gene-splicing retrovirus and her hope that she could find a cure for certain genetic disorders, including the one that robs her son of the sun. But lest we forget, this was a military base. Dreams of medical miracles gave way to devious government officials and military men who saw an opportunity to construct the super soldier.

We got neither. But we got lots of trouble.

Before long, Snow — they call him Snowman — and pals are battling everything from the aforementioned mutant critters and maniacal oddballs to wily worms that threaten the world.

For my money, the saving grace of “Seize the Night,” apart from the characters, is that most of it is set at Fort Wyvern. There may be no creepier place in literature. Koontz gives us catacombs and air locks, open spaces and tiny places, underground hellholes and outdoor killing fields. The intensely scary “egg room” alone gives birth to goose bumps and throat lumps. And then there’s a kind of parallel universe that holds its own special terrors.

That’s about as far as we need go; you’ll do well to pay your own visit.

And trust me: Koontz will make it worth your while. Even when the plot strains credulity, his writing will intrigue. He’s a slick writer — someone with a rare flair for contemporary dialogue that’s flip and funny but never trite. But it’s his narrative that most fascinates me, as in the following from our protagonist, Snowman, rattling off a kind of self-awareness:

“Carpe diem, said the poet Horace, more than two thousand years ago. Seize the day. And trust not in tomorrow. Carpe noctem works as well for me. I seize the night, wringing from it all that it has to offer, and I refuse to dwell on the fact that eventually the darkness of all darknesses will wring the same from me.”

Nice, Mr. Koontz. You might say I’ve come to see the light.

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