Koontz's deja vu chiller reads lukewarm

January 14, 1993|By Gregory N. Krolczyk | Gregory N. Krolczyk,Contributing Writer

Just when Sammy Shadroe thought living on the streets was about as bad as life could get, he met the "ratman."

Appearing as an extremely repulsive bum, the ratman recently began terrorizing Sammy. Then the ratman took the terror further, promising Sammy he'd kill him in 36 hours. That said, he dissolved into a horde of rats, leaving Sammy to count the minutes until his death.

A week ago, when Janet Marco first met the freckled-faced cop, she'd been worried. Although it was possible he was going to hassle her because she, her son and their dog were living in her Dodge, it was also possible they'd finally found the body of her abusive husband, Vince.

But now those worries seem trivial. For just before the policeman metamorphosed briefly into a wolf, then into Vince, he told her she and her son had just 16 hours to live.

Idealistic police detective Harry Lyon thought having to kill someone was perhaps the most distressing thing that had ever happened to him. Then he encountered a singularly repulsive hobo who, just before turning into a whirlwind of dirt and leaves, promised Harry that he would kill everyone Harry loved, then the detective himself.

One of the people Harry cares about is his pessimistic partner, Connie Gulliver. Until earlier today, Connie had been rather fearless about her job.

Then something changed her outlook on life, something that made her think that the future just might hold promise. Unfortunately, this creature, whom Harry has dubbed "Ticktock," can stop that promise from being realized. And it seems to have the power to do just that.

When one has written as many novels as Dean Koontz (30-plus), a certain amount of repetition is to be expected. But in "Dragon Tears," Mr. Koontz seems to be following a formula, and it's the same one he used in 1990's "The Bad Place."

The first similarity between "Dragon Tears" and "The Bad Place" is that they both have the same type of characters: the level-headed male, the gung-ho female and a "special" person, to name a few. They aren't exactly the same characters, but for all their differences they may as well be.

The books also share the same structure, and the same types of things happen at about the same time. From the wham-bang opening to the "talking head" explanation, it's as though Mr. Koontz were just filling in the blanks.

This is not unforgivable if one does a good job, but Mr. Koontz doesn't. "Dragon Tears" completely misses the mark: The plot seems contrived and manipulative, his main characters are wooden, his villain is about as chilling as a tepid tea bag and his explanation is better left unsaid.

Of course, even a poor book by Mr. Koontz is better than most other writers' best. "Dragon Tears" has flashes of brilliance throughout, and it does catch fire about 50 pages from the end. But overall, it's not even close to being among Mr. Koontz's best.

BOOK REVIEW

Title: "Dragon Tears."

Author: Dean Koontz.

Publisher: Putnam.

Length, price: 377 pages, $22.95.

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