Books: Beauty and a new Beast
Thriller: Innocence by Dean Koontz (Harper Collins, £18.99, hbk)
Dean Koontz is a literary phenomenon. His curiously addictive blend of suspense, fantasy and horror strikes a chord with readers all around the world – his books are published in 39 languages.
Every hour of every day 2,000 copies of a Koontz novel are bought, an astonishing 17 million books a year to add to the 450 million total already clocked up in a writing career that began 46 years ago with the publication of a science fiction title, Star Quest.
Koontz was by no means an overnight success, but he was prodigiously prolific, sometimes publishing eight books a year under a variety of pseudonyms. Many of these early efforts are no longer available because as he grew wealthier from his writing Koontz bought back the publishing rights to the books and suppressed them.
His big breakthrough came in the early 1970s with a book called Demon Seed. Following the 1977 release of a film of the same name, which starred Julie Christie and the voice of Robert Vaughan as an evil-intentioned Hal-like super computer called Proteus, paperback sales of the book soared to over 2 million copies.
This was followed by Whispers, an edge-of-the-seat suspense novel about a troubled young woman stalked by a relentless serial killer with a unique background, his first book to make The New York Times No 1 slot. The equally nail-biting Strangers, published in 1986, became his first hardback No 1, and announced his arrival as a peer of bestselling suspense and terror luminaries such as Stephen King and Whitley Strieber.
Apart from Demon Seed, more than 20 other movies and television films based on his novels have been made over the years, including Phantoms, featuring the late Peter O'Toole and Ben Affleck. For some reason few of these adaptations have enjoyed anything like the popularity of Koontz's literary efforts.
In fact, a movie made last year called Odd Thomas, based on one of his most popular characters of the same name who has featured in eight No 1 bestsellers, never even got a theatrical release, going straight to dvd.
Koontz's latest novel, Innocence, is an intriguing and compelling take on the Beauty and the Beast fairytale. Raised in total isolation in the countryside, Addison Goodheart is a young man unlike other young men. As he says of himself, "when they saw me men and women alike recoiled, but their fear quickly gave way to fury" and, always, they immediately tried to kill him.
As a young boy, cast adrift by his mother, he is lucky to encounter an older man exactly like him who teaches him how to live in safety and solitude beneath the city.
Books become his refuge and escape, and every night he leaves his hidden chambers to make his way through the warren of underground storm drains and tunnels to the central library.
It is here he meets Gwyneth, a troubled but beautiful young woman, who like him, hides her true appearance and struggles to trust anyone. They forge a delicate alliance, but as their bond grows stronger the dangers they face multiply as a desperate criminal seeks to eliminate Gwyneth who has made it her business to document his crimes and knows far too much about him.
As the net tightens on the two young outcasts it seems that not only is their hour of reckoning fast approaching, so to is that of the rest of humanity.
Genuinely rivetting, and beautifully written, with a killer twist at the end.
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