Dean Koontz is a bold writer when it comes to experimenting with genres. In Relentless he gives us a comic horror science fiction thriller. It’s a very enjoyable and compelling book, but I’m not entirely sure all its parts work together.
I’ve said in other reviews that I admire Koontz’s general avoidance of the common (lazy) writer’s trick of telling stories about writers. But Relentless is about a writer (and his family). It could hardly have been otherwise, given the premise.
If horror means basing plots on our greatest fears, there can be no greater horror premise for a writer than a sociopathic critic. Negative critics are the enemies against whom there is no defense. Fighting a critic is a loser’s game. But how much worse if that critic wants you (and your family) dead?
“Cubby” Greenwich is the narrator and hero of Relentless. He’s a thriller author, obviously based on Koontz himself. It’s a big moment in his career when he’s reviewed—at long last—by the New York Times critic Shearman Waxx. His agent and editor tell him to never mind that Waxx hated his book. The attention itself has put him on the literary map.
But the review is so vicious that Cubby, when he learns that Waxx actually lives nearby and lunches regularly at a local restaurant, can’t resist having a look at the man. Confronted by Waxx in the men’s room in a slapstick scene, Cubby inadvertently offends him, evoking a single word of response— “Doom.”
Which plunges Cubby into a whole new world of real-life horror and fear. Because Waxx, as it turns out, is not alone in his malevolence. He represents an organization of unthinkable power and cruelty, one which has already destroyed not only authors, but their families.
Fortunately for Cubby, the average author doesn’t have his advantages—a wife who’s a crack shot (raised by wealthy, survivalist demolitions experts), a six-year-old son who dabbles in science fiction physics, and a dog with the power of teleportation.
The end of the book is, frankly, a deus ex machina, but it’s an honest one, fairly set up for the reader.
My minor uneasiness with the story rises from the sometimes unstable blend of genuine horror (we’re dealing with truly evil people who have done appalling things to the innocent) with a very light comic delivery. The dialogue is amusing all through, but I found it jarring against the backdrop of the subject matter. Add the science fiction element, and it sometimes seemed a little much. Also the final resolution is one Koontz has used before, and one that is not entirely satisfying to me.
I think the author (a practicing Catholic) intends the book to be taken as a parable about the life of grace in a fallen, often cruel world. I find it easiest to think of Relentless that way. I enjoyed it and recommend it (especially for those who already know and love Koontz), but it’s a weird, Dagwood sandwich of a book that will divide readers.
Lars Walker is a fantasy author living in Minnesota. His most recent novel is West Oversea, published by Nordskog Publishing.
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