What the Night Knows is roughly the 95th novel by Dean Koontz in a writing career that spans forty two years .  And it is, in this readers opinion, one of his finer works in the past 10.  If you read my previous posts you’ll know that I’ve been reading this man’s work for twenty – five years and loving almost every minute of it.  The past several novels however have left me yearning for Koontz of times past.  Every year, right around the same time of December I await his newest novel and generally speaking, put all other books down to savor one of my all time favorite authors.  This time around I downloaded it to my nook (I still bought the hardcover to add to my overflowing collection of all things Koontz) and made it my first book of 2011.  I really really enjoyed … most of it.

It cannot be said that Dean Koontz cannot write.  His prose is quick witted, sharp, full of humor and brings a life to the story that is want in many a novel.  His characters, as always, spring off the page in full color 3-d.  His characters are all well rounded, with a history you care about and secrets that you find out about last minute.  The bad guys are dripping with evil so much that you are galvanized as you watch them spread their horror about the pages and the good guys (and girls, and kids) even with their small dark secrets are the heroes of the hour that you can wait to win.

What the Night Knows is a story about a man who, as a child, killed a monster who was in the midst of murdering and raping the boys family.  Decades later eerily similar killings are taking place.  The boy, now a police officer with a family of his own, must put his own sanity to the test as he uncovers what he thinks is the original murderer come back to haunt him.  Laced throughout the book are journal entries that bid us welcome to the mind, and history  of Alton Turner Blackwood, the man who knows the secrets of the night and who yearns to become death himself.

John Calvino, surviving member of the last family in Blackwoods original killing spree, lives with his wonderfully devoted, talented, strong and heroic wife and three wonderfully devoted, talented in each of their own rights, strong and heroic children.  Yes there is sarcasm lightly dripping from that sentence, but that is how Koontz writes his characters.  The good are good and the bad are bad.  However,  he writes them with such love and attention, so much so that each individual character has their own distinct voice that you fall in love with them (and if not with the characters themselves you smile at the unmistakable voice of Dean washing through them all).

{Zach is a thirteen year old boy who is an exceptional artist like his mother}”[Zach] called forth the memory of Laura Leigh Highsmith’s singular and exquisite nose, and contemplated it with the hope of a sudden insight would precisely define why it was so exquisite.

As far as he knew, there were no hairs in her goddess nose.  He had never glimpsed any bristling from it, nor had he ever seen a ray of light catch a hair shape in the shadowy ovals encompassed by her porcelain-smooth nares.  Of course he never walked right up to her and peered up her nostrils, so he couldn’t be sure they were in fact hairless … Her nose might be as hairy inside as a freaking gorilla’s armpit”

This novel is also by far one of the most adult Dean has written in years.  That is not to say that it is riddled with language and sex but there was enough to catch my eyes compared to his most recent novels.  The violence is, however, quite graphic and while not gratuitous it is plentiful.  This also is a return to form for Koontz, one that got me excited about reading him once again.  Dean Koontz has always been that kind of writer who knows the power of language so well that he never needed to riddle his books with overt sex, curses and violence.  His characters were certainly evil and their actions were always (wonderfully) deplorable but it was always done expertly  and with reverence to the written word.  Yet lately even his really cool baddies were becoming lackluster.  The things he has Blackwood doing and saying had me creeped out and loving it.

“He will kill the father, then disable the son and force him to watch the use, abuse, and ruination of the mother and the girl … he can carve the girl with their cutlery… “this will be so much fun, Reese.  Don’t you think it’ll be fun?”

Even the secondary characters are fleshed out and given an entire life:

“The watch on my right wrist, keeps perfect time.  the day in the date window is correct.  the watch on my left wrist has no batteries.  The date in the window has to be reset from time to time.  You see now– it’s set eight weeks and three days ago.  I reset it every time I fall.  It’s my reminder of how weak I am.  It shows the date on which I last …”

Well I don’t want to give it away; my point being that this character who shows up in one chapter has an entire history and within that chapter speaks one line that is the hinge on which the end of the novel rests upon.

Unfortunately all good things come to an end, and sometimes the ending ends not so good (like that sentence, but you get the idea).  Machina ex Deo!  But Dean realizes this and says it!  Plain as day!  Does that mean a lack of imagination on Deans’ part or is it more?  Is it Dean espousing his religious beliefs.  The answer lies in the use of Machina ex Deo as opposed to the popular term Dues Ex Machina.  And it is that purposeful usage of the term that I accept, however disparagingly, the ending of this latest work.

Almost 100 novels to date ( I would say 50 are still in print under Deans’ name) and I’ve read almost all of them.  If you going to start on Koontz, this would be a permissible start.  It has his voice, his wonderfully fleshed out characters and a pretty twisted bad guy to love to hate and Koontzs’ unmistakable love of life and his belief that all things can be done if you have that love.  It would be trite in another authors books (or as I’ve said before, his last five or six) but this is a small return to form for him, and I welcome it.  I’m now more excited more than ever for next December.