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Koontz's Earliest In-Print Novel
on 1 December 2006
212 pages (includes 2 page 1995 author's note forward). Originally penned under the name of K. R. DWYER in 1972, revised in 1995.
It is the early 70's and Ben Chase has survived Vietnam. However, the horrors of war still haunt him. He has nightmares about the enemy, some female, which he had no choice but to kill during the war.
His life back home consists of eating little and drinking a lot. He can't sleep - instead he read books and watches old movies on TV until a restless sleep eventually comes.
Things get worse when he is honoured by his hometown for bravery during the war. Chase can't understand why this should happen. Why should someone who had killed woman be honoured? He reluctantly accepts the honour along with a brand new sports car.
While driving the sports car for the first time things get even worse. He is sitting in a local secluded area frequented by lovers in their cars. He sees a shadowy figure slowly moving towards a car. His soldier senses kick in, he follows the figure but he is too late. The figure strikes, murdering a teenage boy in a car but Chase does enough to save his girlfriend from a similar fate.
Once again Chase is a hero. But Chase is now a victim. That murderer, known as "The Judge", has decided that Chase should be investigated to see if he is worthy of living or dying. After investigation, The Judge decides that Chase is not worth and should be his next victim. It's a race against time - Chase has to find the identity of The Judge before he becomes a victim of his murderous intentions.
The first half of this book really had me gripped. Chase is a brilliant character. You really feel empathy for him and hope that he manages to get out of his downward spiral of self-loathing. The introduction of The Judge ups the pace and the suspense of the book.
The only criticism I have of the book is the introduction of the "love interest" character Glenda. Glenda, like Chase, is a typical Koontz character - a good but scarred person. Chase and Glenda instantly become soul mates. Chase has his Vietnam problems and Glenda is a survivor of sexual abuse from her father. The speed in which their relationship develops is a bit hard to believe. And Glenda is nowhere near as well a developed character as Chase. However, this is a minor quibble but is one of the reasons preventing the book from getting a perfect 10/10 rating.
Considering it's the earliest in print Koontz book it makes remarkably good reading. Sure, Glenda could have been better developed and perhaps the The Judge could have been explored further. However, there is something to be said for just over 200 pages of page-turning excitement. This is a book that could easily be read in one sitting.
As with the 1973 follow-up "Shattered", Koontz sets the book perfectly in early 70's America. You get a feel for the Vietnam years from the point of view of a surviving soldier and the ignorance of Middle America. It's most definitely a book of that time but it hasn't aged badly and actually enhances the story.
As with "Shattered", this is not a complex novel. 212 pages are all you get but the story does grip and Chase is one of the more interesting characters of that era in Koontz's writing.