Watchers by Dean Koontz

I first read this book when it was published in the late 80s. I was about fifteen at the time and I recall being captivated by it. It’s tragic therefore that, fifteen years later, when I decide it’s time for a re-read, I find the novel somewhat tiresome.

The story begins by introducing Travis Cornell, a depressed widow out trekking the barren foothills of Orange County, California, trying to recapture the happiness of his childhood. A dog comes into Travis’s path – but it’s no ordinary golden retriever; it escaped from a government laboratory. And the dog is not alone; something is coming after it – a creature which leaves a trail of bloody corpses in its wake. Other principals characters in the tale are Nora Devon (Travis’s love interest), Vince Nasco (a serial killer) and Lemuel Johnson (a government agent).

The one thing I really liked more than anything about this novel was the idea of a creature that is out there somewhere in the wilderness, gradually moving towards you, homing in through some kind of psychic connection. And no matter how far you travel or where you hide, it knows where you are, and it keeps on coming until it finds you. Did I mention that it hates you and wants nothing more than to kill you? Yep, there’s something pretty chilling about all that. But what I didn’t like was the way I was forced to read reams and reams of Travis, Nora and Einstein (the dog) playing happy families. Fair enough, character development is a good thing, but there’s such a thing as overkill. In fact, it’s the characters that kill this novel for me.

Travis’s personal history, involving the death of his wife, initially brought the character to life, but then Koontz had to drop in the everyone-I-love-dies-so-I-must-be-cursed syndrome. I’ve seen this in too many of his novels, and because of that, I just can’t take it seriously any more. In addition, the good guys were far too moral to be real; the serial killer was too strange to be believable, even in a screwed up kind of way.

When I went to grab the graphic for this review from Amazon, I couldn’t help but notice that the novel was rated 5 out of 5 on the basis of eighteen reviews. I hate to disagree with such a unanimous public opinion, but I can only tell ’em as I see ’em. Make of my review what you will. Watchers worked when I was fifteen, but with a good dose of adult cynicism in my blood, it doesn’t have the same charm.

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