[Book Review] Dean Koontz’s ’77 Shadow Street’

Growing up one of my personal favorite authors was Dean Koontz, who was responsible for so many classics ranging from “Whispers” to “Hideaway” and even “Phantoms.” While the horror author continues to work, the quality of his product is hitting new lows.

Now available at a book store near you is Koontz’s “77 Shadow Street,” a story that Ryan Daley calls “a boring, under-plotted mess.”

Enter the world of the Pendleton: The original owner became a recluse – and was rumored to be more than half mad – after his wife and two children were kidnapped in 1896 and never found. The second owner suffered a worse tragedy in 1935, when his house manager murdered him, his family, and the entire live-in staff. For years, the Pendleton is a happy place, until a bad turn comes again. Voices in unknown languages are heard in deserted rooms, disturbing shadows move along walls but have no source, images on security monitors show strange places that exist nowhere in the building or its grounds, a young boy talks of an imaginary playmate – who turns out to be terrifyingly real. A figure like a man but clearly inhuman is glimpsed in the courtyard gardens at night and in other locales, perhaps a hoaxer of some kind, seemingly oblivious of those who see it – until it suddenly takes an interest in one of them… With dozens of international bestsellers notched into his sinewy forearm, author Dean Koontz is no stranger to success. A few of his mid-career novels (Strangers, Watchers, Lightning) greatly shaped my high school experience, and for a span of several years Koontz was one of my favorite writers. I don’t recall what exactly spurned the end of our author/reader relationship––it may have been the three-testicled villain in The Bad Place, or perhaps it was my subconscious feeling that Koontz simply peaked in the 80s––but I progressively lost interest in Koontz the older I got, despite his enduring popularity. With his recent Odd Thomas and Frankenstein series, Koontz has experienced a late career resurgence, and when offered the opportunity to review his newest standalone horror novel, I jumped at the chance to revisit an old friend. Unfortunately, the reunion wasn’t everything it was cracked up to be.

With 77 Shadow Street, Koontz plants the seeds for a lush, overgrown epic that somehow never bears fruit. The setting is a spooky upscale apartment building packed with a diverse group of tenants, a set-up that allows Koontz to play to his strengths––namely, to march out a pantload of bland characters, one per chapter, and sketch out each with a formulaic yawn. Koontz is obviously an author who‘s been there, done that, and with 77 Shadow Street, he’s not shy about letting his boredom peek through the chapter breaks.

With a cast that includes a country-western song writer, an autistic kid, a security guard, and (of course) a hit man, the characters feels arbitrary from the very beginning. Koontz builds elaborate backgrounds for his building residents with complete disregard to how those characters would interact as his story progresses. It’s like he picked their names and occupations out of a hat in some writer’s workshop and suddenly decided that he’s got enough material for a novel.

And once his characters are firmly established, Koontz doesn’t stop, continuing to expand on their backgrounds at the expense of the central plot, which involves bizarre creatures that have infiltrated the apartment building through an open dimensional gate. It’s an interesting premise that a more ambitious author could have worked wonders with. In fact, with heavy descriptions of mutant bugs, cat-like shadow people, and big fat baby monsters, Koontz seems to be straining toward a nightmare of Lovecraftian proportions, but he seems to have forgotten how to craft a suspenseful scene without suddenly cutting away to a different character. (77 Shadow Street changes perspective so often, I practically slipped a disc.) Along with his weird, over-explanatory gun fetishism (“The Baretta 9mm featured a twenty-round magazine, a six-inch Mag-na-ported Jarvis barrel, and Trijicon night sights“), Koontz rolls out all of his traditional tropes for his drooling fan-base, but the resulting novel is a boring, under-plotted mess for anyone but Koontz loyalists.

1 out of 5 Skulls