Dean Koontz’s newest novel, Innocence (December 10; Bantam), is virtually guaranteed to be a runaway holiday bestseller. With a primo release date and the tried and true name of Dean Koontz stamped on the cover, grandmas everywhere will be salivating to slide this gift-wrapped treasure into the soft hands of their bookworm grandsons. After 30+ years of repeated bestsellers, Koontz is no longer an author, he’s a brand. He represents something you buy because you’ve always bought it, like a particular type of canned chili––he’s not particularly good, but you stick to what you know. And when it comes to Christmastime, a new Dean Koontz hardcover is like a strangely familiar glitter, winking at you from a Barnes and Noble easel rack.
At its core, Innocence is nothing more than a stifling, sluggish retread of Beauty and the Beast. Addison is a 26-year-old recluse who favors face-rags and hidden bomb shelters––the mere sight of his freakish visage results in rabid attempts on his life. Gwynyth is an 18-year-old Goth girl pursued by the man who killed her father, a rare book thief with rape-y tendencies, perhaps one of the most ridiculous villains ever put to paper. The two outcasts join forces in a revenge tale that’s as poorly paced as a health clinic pamphlet, padded out with unnecessarily detailed flashbacks, and capped with an overtly-religious last-minute twist that is certain to leave more than a few readers in an eye-rolling stupor.
Speaking of flashbacks, Innocence is a novel so flashback-driven, nothing ever really happens to the characters––or more accurately, stuff has already happened as the novel begins, and a bunch of boring flashbacks fill in the gaps. Rather than depict a character’s journey in real time, Koontz would prefer to divulge their destination, and then bore the reader with details of how they got there. As a first-person narrative voice, it’s certainly ill-conceived, and if the flashback padding is intentional, it’s downright egregious, an author taking advantage of his doting fan base. This isn’t the Dean R. Koontz behind heartfelt page-turners like Watchers, Lightning, or Strangers. This is latter-day Dean Koontz, a master of treading narrative water.
I have a secret Dean Koontz theory that I’ve been harboring for years. I don’t share it with many people, but what the hell, we‘re all friends here. I hypothize that Koontz actually stopped writing novels back in the 1990s and the rights to his name were purchased by a nameless multinational corporation for millions of dollars. There were two stipulations: Koontz must go into hiding forever, and the middle initial R. could never be used again. This anonymous but undeniably evil Corporation then employed a sweatshop of heavily bearded, hyper-articulate college professors to take little sliver ideas of stories and, through the power of minutia and repetition, transform them into 300-page, triple-spaced Koontz hardbacks that do huge sales over the holidays, particularly amongst baby boomers. I’m telling you, it’s all part of a complex corporate plot. I know in my heart the real Koontz is shackled in some sort of sub-basement, heavily sedated and fed through a tube, occasionally roused to sign various legal documents, even as his good name is being tarnished by a vast corporate conspiracy involving greedy imposters. I’m just saying, when the story finally breaks and the real Koontz emerges in chains, all bearded and squinty-eyed, ready to start writing quality shit again, just remember that you read it first at Bloody-disgusting.com.