Sleepless-night factor missing from Dean Koontz's latest effort

February 02, 1992|By Gregory N. Krolczyk

HIDEAWAY.

Dean R. Koontz.

Putnam.

384 pages. $22.95. Had Hatch Harrison not died, neither he nor his wife, Lindsey, would have ever had a second chance at life. For the past 4 1/2 years, both had been too busy mourning the death of their 5-year-old son even to think about getting on with their own lives. xTC But their car's crashing into an icy river, and a miraculous effort by Dr. Jonas Nyeborg and his resuscitation team, changed all that. Now just two months after the accident, this second chance has so filled the couple with a love of life that they decide to adopt a child.

Her name is Regina. Although physically disabled, her grit and charm are more than enough to immediately win the Harrisons' hearts. She moves in with them while the adoption board reviews the case.

The Harrisons are positive the adoption will go smoothly. They have a strong financial foundation, thanks to Lindsey's earnings as a artist and Hatch's thriving antiques business. And even though Hatch was legally dead for 80 minutes, Dr. Nyeborg has assured everyone that Hatch is perfectly healthy.

About the only thing that could ruin it would be if the board were to find out about the disturbing visions Hatch has begun to have. These visions subject Hatch to glimpses into a hell so filled with carnage that he has begun to wonder if he has started to go insane, or if instead somehow on his way back from death he brought something back with him -- something that's out for blood.

Over the years, Dean R. Koontz has caused his fans quite a few sleepless nights by writing some of the best horror and suspense novels around. Unfortunately, "Hideaway" isn't one of them.

In his 1981 book, "How to Write Best-Selling Fiction," Mr. Koontz is emphatic about involving the reader in the action, espousing the "show, don't tell" philosophy. Yet in "Hideaway," he too frequently does exactly the opposite, and the novel suffers.

As is typical for Mr. Koontz, "Hideaway" starts off as a real grabber. Also typically, he loosens his grip on the reader about a hundred pages into the book. But instead of regaining his hold and squeezing tightly until the end, Mr. Koontz allows the reader simply to slip away. Some on-stage action not only would have helped with the pacing, it also would have helped with the characters.

Mr. Koontz's best characters reveal their personalities through their actions; the more frenzied their situation, the greater their depth. In "Hideaway," the characters are more introspective than reactive, and thus their personalities seem more contrived than convincing.

This is especially true with "Hideaway's" antagonist. By allowing many of his deeds to happen offstage, Mr. Koontz wastes several opportunities to put real chills into a guy who had the potential to make Hannibal Lecter look like a pussycat. When Mr. Koontz does share with the reader the antagonist's actions (once via a fairly long flashback), those actions are, comparatively speaking, very mundane. Certainly gore is not a prerequisite for entertainment, but a little on-stage action would have served nicely to solidify the character.

Finally, while the idea behind "Hideaway" is a most intriguing one, its plot is disappointingly straight-forward, reminiscent of something Mr. Koontz used to conjure up when he was writing under the name Brian Coffey. Again, there's nothing wrong with a straightforward plot, but a few convolutions would have helped a great deal.

If evaluated on its own merits, "Hideaway" is an entertaining book. But when compared with Mr. Koontz's best efforts, this one falls far short.

Mr. Krolczyk is a writer who lives in Baltimore.

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