Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz
I became fascinated with this novel as a result of Dean Koontz talking about it (and the two sequels) on his podcast. One of Koontz’s friends pointed out to him, “Do you realise you’re writing the life story of a saint?” Koontz says that book one is all about the theme of perseverance, book two unearned suffering, and book three altruism. While Koontz is not specifically a Christian, I (as a Christian) am broadminded enough to know that you don’t have to be a Christian to learn (and communicate) important things about life. And so, I began Odd Thomas with anticipation.
Odd is actually the protagonist’s real name (revealed as a possible misspelling of Todd on his birth certificate), and Thomas is his surname. And odd he is. Odd and fascinating. He has a power: the ability to see the spirits of the dead who have not yet moved on to the next life. The dead with unfinished business. And Odd makes it his business to help them. In a marked difference with the movie The Sixth Sense, Odd was never a little boy traumatised by his ability. He has embraced it as a gift. He has other paranormal abilities, too. He sees dark, mist-like, shadowy creatures that he calls “bodachs,” after a similar creature from folklore. These beings flock around people who are destined to die soon, as if drawing sustenance from their doom. Odd’s third ability is something he calls Psychic Magnetism. If he pictures someone in his mind that he wants to locate, he is able to drive around in a car and intuitively home in on them.
It’s not the abilities that make Odd interesting; we’ve seen similar things before in works of fiction and film. Odd is interesting because of his humble nature and lifestyle. In order to cope with his strange ability, he has simplified his life. He works as a grill-cook; he doesn’t own a car; his house is sparsely decorated; his wardrobe consists of jeans and T-shirts. He is humble, in terms of possessions, ambitions, and character.
The novel sees Odd on the trail of a sinister man to whom a great many bodachs flock. Something very bad is about to happen in the town of Pico Mundo, unless Odd can figure out what this man is up to and put a stop to him.
First, let me get out of the way what I didn’t like about the novel. Odd’s abilities are unrelated to each other and way too convenient, especially Psychic Magnetism. If the story requires Odd to find a particular person, all the author has to do is turn on the Psychic Magnetism and we have an instant result. It’s a lazy plot advancement device. Remember Mr. X from The X-Files? Every time the story required Agent Mulder to have a certain piece of information, Mr. X would show up and give it to him. It didn’t matter how irrelevant or pointless this information seemed; we, the viewers, were always required to believe that Mr. X had his own secret agenda that we would never know about. Instant plot advancement, in any direction the writers deemed suitable. And with Odd Thomas, instant character location, without the reliance on traditional means of investigation. No reason is given for Odd to possess these abilities. They simply are. I can accept that for one ability, but not two or three.
Koontz has a tendency to ramble off on a tangent occasionally. One scene in the book involved a character depositing a body in a disused Quonset hut. The author treated us to a two-page history of what had led to the location being abandoned. This involved the place originally being the headquarters of a religious cult and later a brothel. Why did I need to know all that? The information added nothing to the story. As a reader, I’m perfectly happy to accept that there are abandoned buildings here and there on our planet without needing to be told all the facts that led it the abandonment. Thankfully, there’s not a lot of this rambling in the novel, but when it happens, it’s a minor irritation.
The ending of the story was somewhat less dramatic than the build-up led me to believe. In the book’s last gasp, there’s a twist in the tail. I didn’t see it coming, but when it arrived, I recognised it as the same twist I already had seen in several ghost movies.
Having got all that out of my system, I need to say that I still enjoyed this book immensely. I’m conscious that’s it’s often easier to find words of criticism than praise, so I need to say that there’s no denying I had a great time. As a thriller, the novel was a page-turner, and it had me picking up the book at various points in the day, instead of only for my usual bed-time reading routine. Having read lots of Koontz books in the past, I’m not sure there’s any I would class as truly excellent reads, but I think Odd Thomas is probably the best of the bunch. It didn’t entirely live up to my expectations, especially on the “life story of a saint” angle, but I find that I really want to read the next book, Forever Odd, for the promise of that side of the story being developed.