Yup, a book. It is a movies and books crit blog after all despite me tipping the balance to one side so far.
From one of my favorite authors, Dean Koontz, comes Forever Odd, the sequel to the hit that was Odd Thomas back in 2003. For those of you who haven't met him, Odd Thomas ("Odd" is actually his name)is a likeable young man who lives in a small town called Pico Mundo in California. An ordinary guy as any you might meet but for one peculiarity. Odd Thomas can see the dead. They appear to him unexpectedly, some looking as good as they did on their best day, some looking as frightening as the day they died. They seem to seek for solace in Odd, even if they can't talk to him. And Odd does his best to do whatever he can for them, even if it involves risking his own life to bring a murderer to justice.
The original novel (SOME SPOILERS IN THE NEXT TWO PARAGRAPHS) introduced us not only to Odd, but to the picturesque residents of Pico Mundo (and not less important, the linguering spirit of Elvis Presley who for some reason now lives with him), in a day when their lives are threatened by a looming tragedy. By the end of that adventure, Odd managed to save the town, and lose what was most precious to him, his beloved girlfriend Stormy Lewellyn.
The sequel finds Odd a year after his loss. He has done his best to move on with his life, but secretly longs for the day he is reunited with Stormy in what she called "service" (acording to her we get three shots at life: the first is boot camp, when we basically train; the second is service, when we go through the real thing; ad the third is one of bliss). Odds attention however is quickly drawn in another direction when he receives the visit of the recently dead Dr. Jessup, who has just been murdered. Odd rushes to the Jessup residence where he realizes that his close friend Danny (Dr. Jessup's son who has a condition known as "brittle bones", that is, his bones are so fragile they can break by the slightest strain) has been abducted. With the aid of yet another gift, that of being able to be drawn psychically to a person he wants to find, Odd is lead through a system of sewers all the way to an abandoned hotel/casino in the middle of the desert, where Danny is held captive by a mysterious woman called Datura, and her two minions, Andre and Robert. When Datura exposes her true motivations, Odd will be forced to outwit Datura in a desperate effort to survive the night.
Forever Odd has a strong opening, with a first set of chapters that move at a quick speed and reel the reader in. However, as Odd is drawn through the sewer system and then has to find his way through the maze that has become this hotel, we realize this second delivery is not as effective as the original. The main reason: we are not in Pico Mundo anymore. The characters that gave the previous novel a fondness of its own are virtually absent here or appear in a minimum number of pages. As opposed to the first novel which had Odd running around town, trying to put the pieces of a mystery together with the aid of his friends and neighbors, here the number of characters is greatly reduced and most of the action finds Odd by himself.
The other big problem is the villain. Koontz can be brilliant when he creates evil characters. He can make them as evil as can be (Edgler Vess in Intensity), demented while living their own delusion (Corky Laputa in The Face, Junior Cain in From the Corner of his Eye), eerily disturbed (Bruno in Whispers) or as bizarre and unique as you will ever find (Konrad and Punchinello Beezo in Life Expectancy). Here Koontz has a golden opportunity bringing a female villain that allows so much in terms of character, but he misses the opportunity making her basically an annoying character who is taken out of the equation without major glory. The fact that the Odd novels are narrated in first person does not allow for deeper glances at the villain, but Datura in this case is a wasted character. Not to mention her minions whose motivations -and some of their actions- we never get to know.
The final problem with this novel is a mechanism which Koontz has used in previous novels but which makes readers like me cringe. That mechanism is called Deux ex Machina (and for those who don't know what it means, it refers to the intrusion of a totally implausible element that brings a situation, from where there apparently is no way out, to a most unsatisfying solution). The way the problem with Datura is solved could have probably worked if there had been hints about it (no matter how subtle) at some point in the story. However, the way it happens feels like cheating the reader and only proves the point that the villain in this novel didn't live up to her potential.
Now don't get me wrong. Forever Odd is an enjoyable, fast read. It reunites us with one of Koontz's most beloved characters ever and it delivers a story with many of the suspenseful moments that the author masters so well. However, the long-awaited sequel doesn't live up to the expectations set by its predecessor and would have benefitted from that uniqueness that Koontz can provide to his characters, especially the evil ones.