As a kid, the first thing I did when I was coming back from school was stop by at the library. I used to check out various mystery novels - like those with The Three Investigators, a saga that has remained a favorite and to this day I'm fond of it - and one day the librarian (God bless her) decided that I was mature enough (meaning I started growing whiskers) and recommended Stephen King.
Needless to say, I started to read one King book after the other in quick succesion, sometimes even two at the same time. I was addicted, much like a heroin addict that needs his fix, I checked out a new King book every day.
And then came the unavoidable sad day when there were no new books by King on the library shelf. Since my memories were still too vivid for a re-read, I decided to look for a new author who has released many interesting titles tha would interest a lad like me. I asked the everhelpful librarian, and she pointed me to a shelf directly below the one of the King.
It was labeled: "Dean R. Koontz".
I checked out my first book by the smiling bald guy with a moustache (can't remember what it was), took it home and read quickly. I felt that it was missing something, but still I was entertained enough to come back and check out another. And then another. I've read over a dozen or so of his titles, when new books by King came into library; I checked them out, but from that time on I switched between the two authors just for the fun of it. Koontz was my bubble gum; tasty, but the taste evaporated quickly and you had to take another if you wanted to enjoy it again.
I think I'll spare you the rest of my life story and get on with reviewing the book. I bought Odd Thomas the year it came out (or was it a year later? Can't remember). Every reviewer was raving about it which I found surprising - Koontz was always a low-key author, and never received much publicity despite being one of the highest earning American writers. He was the sort of guy who was always there but didn't stick his head out, always had a personal shelf at the library, always released a book each year that you could read, forget and then remember about him when he released a new one. So when Odd Thomas caught attention by many reviewers on various web sites I decided to check it out myself. I bough an used copy through the web, received it, sat in my favorite armchair and began to read.
Odd Thomas, proudly bearing the title of "a novel" is written from the perspective of a 20 year old Odd, a guy who can see dead people...and does something about it. The first-person narrative has been done by Koontz before, most notably in "Fear Nothing" and "Seize The Night" - the reader can't help but notice the similarities in style and form.
Since Odd Thomas is a character driven novel, maybe we should begin by saying something about them. Characterization was always Koontz's Achilles' heel, and unfortunately it shows in this book. Odd is the type of a literary 20 year old written by a 60-something year old who thinks he can write a cute,sympathetic and witty 20 year old and at the same time slip in some of his disdain for the modern times. Odd doesn't come out as cute and eccentric though; rather boring and preachy. A self-procclaimed carryover from the 50's, Odd lives in the new millenium and stays alive only by listening to Elvis (who also has a supporting role as a ghost) and is heavy on keeping his virginity. Did he forgot that the 50's brough the baby boomers? Was he ever in school? 20 year olds don't talk like this, don't think like this and most importantly don't sound like Dean Koontz.
Speaking of whom, everyone in this novel sounds like Dean Koontz or if he doesn't then he's the bad guy. Koontz simplifies the matter to the utmost - everyone either falls in love with Odd, or is concerned by fulfilling his own hedonistic pursuits. Odd's literary, obese friend Little Ozzie is essentially Koontz with opened Wikipedia, and shooting random facts and quotations. Not to mention that he STILL cannot make people talk like real people...only his impressions of them. When will he learn?
I've heard comparisons between Odd Thomas and M.Night Shyamalan's famous movie The Sixth Sense. They are without substance; The Sixth Sense is one of the most moving and memorable motion pictures I have ever seen. In Odd Thomas seeing dead people serves as Koontz's remedy of getting out from various plot holes; as does having a blind friend who can read a braille card Odd has just found, etc.
The writing style is largely intrusive, overtly verbose and tedious. Instead of using simple descriptions that worked so well in the past Koontz seems content with opening his thesauruses and conjuring up metaphors that completely break the flow of the story. Not that there's much of the story going on; it's constantly interrupted by Koontz's inclusion of various facts about the average number of people being born with six fingers, the biographies of Elvis and Sinatra and even the explanation of various commands shouted at the grille where Odd works (they really weren't that hard to figure out). That's Dean's biggest problems - he not only shows but also tells, tells and tells to be sure you got his point.
The biggest flaw of the book is the narration method. At the beginning, Koontz states EXPLICITLY that Odd will be an unreliable narrator, and even says what exactly he will do to make his narration unreliable. He also spoils the classic Christie novel and reveals the murdered, in case you didn't get his point. This is stupid beyond redemption. The sole point of employing an unreliable narrator in fiction is not letting the audience know that there is one. Well, Koontz seems to not notice this after over four decades of writing 15 hours a day, and the "big surprise" at the end comes as a yawn.
The identity of the evildoers is very disappointing, and the ending confrontation is solved way too fast and way too easy.
Overall, the experience is disappointing. There is an interesing story hidden in Odd Thomas - the one you used to watch as a kid, in shows like "Goosebumps" - but Odd Thomas is marketed at an adult audience, and fails as adult fiction because of Koontz's ineptitude at drawing realistic, likeable characters and writing dialogue (he's truly horrible at it), his tedious writing style and his mistrust of the audience - he truly does spell out every single thing in detail. As a children book it fails too, because of Koontz's inclusion of gruesome details of various crimes, which were supposed to be shocking and mature but turn out to be boring instead. If he only cut up the metaphors, created stronger characters who behave and talk like normal people Odd Thomas might have been an enjoyable bus book. It just needs too much suspension of disbelief to be read. It's still better than all the sequels though, which make me think: When will Koontz stop cashing in on this fluke and start writing like he did in the 80's? I don't like the work of this new guy with a clean shaven sagging face and a mop of fake hair.