If asked to name the bestselling authors of all time, you’d probably cite J.K. Rowling, Agatha Christie, Stephen King, and James Patterson—even William Shakespeare if you’re feeling fancy. One name you might not think of—though he’s one of the most popular authors of the past several decades, with as many as 400 million books sold—is Dean Koontz.
Not only has Koontz written some stone-cold classics of the horror-suspense genre, he’s created one of its most popular characters in Odd Thomas.
Most importantly, Koontz is doing some of the best work of his career right now with the Jane Hawk series, including The Silent Corner and The Whispering Room (book three, The Crooked Staircase, is scheduled for a 2018 release). The books follow an FBI agent whose investigation into her husband’s unlikely suicide leads her to a dark conspiracy involving advanced mind-controlling nanotechnology. They’re lean, taut, and filled with the perfect combination of great ideas and thrilling action.
If that’s not enough to convince you to discover (or rediscover) the Koontz magic, here are five classics that will remind you just how good Dean Koontz can be.
This prescient 1973 classic—completely rewritten in 1997, but we’d recommend the original; they share the same plot, but the rewrite changes the point-of-view completely—is set in a future where homes are monitored and controlled by computer technology and automated machines. Susan is a wealthy recluse living in one such home when a sentient AI created at a nearby university seizes control of her house, imprisoning her inside with the intention of impregnating her with a bio-engineered fetus and transferring its consciousness into the child. Susan must engage in a battle of wits to defeat the AI, called Proteus. It’s creepy and smart, even if the original’s a little dated technology-wise. It’s a great introduction to the Koontz oeuvre.
Inspiring five sequels (so far), a series of graphic novels, and a film (starring the late Anton Yelchin), Odd Thomas is arguably Koontz’s breakout character. A young man who can see and speak with the dead, as well as perceive the demon-like “bodachs” that swarm around people fated to be involved in disaster and death, Thomas has kept his abilities hidden, trying to live a simple life. The first book is a near-perfect introduction, introducing Odd, his powers, his initially small universe, and the people he relies on. The story is centered on a strange man Odd meets who is surrounded by more bodachs than Odd has ever seen in one place. It’s tense and surprising to follow Odd as he breaks his own rules and investigates, knowing that so many of the creatures means something truly terrible is about to happen.
More of a straightforward thriller with sci-fi elements, Watchers is the story of Delta Force operative Travis Cornell, who is struggling with depression and existential malaise when he encounters a golden retriever while on a hike near his home. The dog, who Travis names Einstein, demonstrates intelligence far beyond what’s normal for a dog—to the point that the canine is able to communicate the fact that he is being hunted by a horrific entity he calls the Outsider, genetically engineered at the same government lab that birthed Einstein. Travis helps the lovable dog elude the Outsider, and soon finds himself running from federal agents, a mysterious assassin, and the terrifying Outsider. This is a classic: a slam dunk of a thriller with the added bonus of a delightful doggo you’ll wish was yours.
Two sisters return to their ski resort hometown to find everyone dead, the deaths bizarre and inexplicable. One victim managed to scrawl a name in blood before passing, which leads to an author of a book about an “ancient enemy” possibly to blame for mass disappearances throughout history. The Enemy, slumbering underground, wakens rarely to feed, but when it does, it consumes every living thing in its path, and is able to absorb the consciousness of its victims and project “phantoms”—probes that take on the form and behavior of those it has consumed. It’s speculated that many mysteries from history, like the Roanoke disaster, were in fact caused by the Enemy. The resolution to this horrifying plot is smarter than you might think, and the concept itself is fantastic.
Some books take their time setting the table and introducing the characters, setting, and premise. And some books, like this one, start off at the top of the slide and don’t slow down until you make it to the end. Chyna, a college student from an abusive, unhappy home, visits her friend Laura’s house, which she finds to be the exact opposite. While she’s there, a serial killer invades and systematically murders everyone but Chyna, who winds up hidden in the killer’s motor home as he speeds away from the scene. At first, Chyna is intent on revenge, then on rescuing another woman the killer has been holding prisoner . The story take several twists that will leave your head spinning on the way to the surprising final confrontation between Chyna and a killer who constantly seeks out “intense” experiences. It’s a book you won’t be able to get out of your head.
What’s your favorite Koontz novel?