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What the Night Knows: A Novel Hardcover – December 28, 2010
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"Neverworld Wake" by Marisha Pessl
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In the late summer of a long ago year, a killer arrived in a small city. His name was Alton Turner Blackwood, and in the space of a few months he brutally murdered four families. His savage spree ended only when he himself was killed by the last survivor of the last family, a fourteen-year-old boy.
Half a continent away and two decades later, someone is murdering families again, recreating
in detail Blackwood’s crimes. Homicide detective John Calvino is certain that his own family—his wife and three children—will be targets in the fourth crime, just as his parents and sisters were victims on that distant night when he was fourteen and killed their slayer.
As a detective, John is a man of reason who deals in cold facts. But an extraordinary experience convinces him that sometimes death is not a one-way journey, that sometimes the dead return.
Here is ghost story like no other you have read. In the Calvinos, Dean Koontz brings to life a family that might be your own, in a war for their survival against an adversary more malevolent than any he has yet created, with their own home the battleground. Of all his acclaimed novels, none exceeds What the Night Knows in power, in chilling suspense, and in sheer mesmerizing storytelling.
A Letter from Author Dean Koontz
Readers ask certain questions over and over again. Such as, "How often have you been institutionalized?" and "How does your wife sleep at night, knowing what kind of stories spring from your mind?" and "If you could be any kind of vegetable, what vegetable would you be?"
Because I found most schoolwork tedious, I felt as if I had been institutionalized for fifteen years--throughout grade school, high school, and college. In the grim institution called high school, as a kid in a small town, my therapy consisted of reading novels and listening to rock-and-roll on tower-of-power radio stations in distant cities. In college, my therapy was all-night pinochle tournaments. I cut more classes than Sweeney Todd cut throats.
My wife sleeps peacefully, thank you. She knows I'm basically a pussycat. We have been together since high school, and in all those years, the only living thing she has seen me cut is myself; any time I pick up the simplest tool or kitchen implement to do some minor household task, my blood will inevitably flow. I've been known to cut myself accidentally with something as seemingly safe as a rolling pin.
Sugar snap peas.
Another frequently asked question is "How do you create such bizarre yet convincing and terrifying villains." The glib answer is to say I watch the evening news. In fact, however, the antagonists in my novels create themselves, just as do the protagonists. I conceive a character around a seed of truth, some essential fact that lies at the core of him, then I give him free will, and I discover more about him as the story unfolds. Sometimes, when characters surprise me with their revelations, it seems as if they are indeed real, that I am writing in a kind of dream state that allows me to bridge this world with some parallel reality and tap the consciousness of people living
Alton Turner Blackwood, the villain of Darkness Under the Sun and of the forthcoming novel What the Night Knows, literally appeared to me in one of those exceedingly vivid dreams that are peculiar to many of us who, suffering allergies, take two or three Benedryl every night for too many weeks. Benedryl dreams are, in my experience, never flat-out nightmares. They generally do not have much in the way of storylines, but the people in them are so dimensional and so exquisitely detailed that they seem as real as anyone you would meet in real life. They are sometimes strange, as well, and menacing, though these are for the most part dreams without action, so their menace is implied.
The morning after the Benedryl dream in which Alton Turner Blackwood appeared (though he had no name in the dream), I wrote down a physical description of him, which I used word for word in the finished novel:
He stood six feet five, scarecrow-thin but strong. His hands were immense, the spatulate fingers as suctorial as the toe discs of a web-foot toad, large bony wrists like robot joints, orangutan-long arms. His shoulder blades were thick and malformed, so that bat wings appeared to be furled under his shirt.
As for how his face looks and as for the explanation of how and why such a specimen might be born: I'll let you discover those things in the novella and the novel.
Of the scores of evil characters I have created, none has so affected me as Alton Turner Blackwood. In spite of all his physical and mental strangenesses, I would not be surprised to see him one evening, walking along a lonely highway or perhaps standing under a lamppost across the street, still and watchful. Of all the eerie characters met in Benedryl dreams--many of them like people you might expect to see in Tim Burton movies--he is the only one who has made a second appearance in my sleep. And he's appeared three times. I don't know what to make of that. If his repeated appearance means anything, I guess I'll find out eventually.
Baby carrots are also cool.
From Publishers Weekly
In this less than suspenseful supernatural thriller from Koontz (Breathless), 14-year-old Billy Lucas's inexplicable slaughter of his entire family awakens the fears of homicide detective John Calvino, who as a child was the sole survivor of a similar family massacre. Though Calvino slayed the fiend who did the deed, he has always worried that the killings were demonic in nature and that the evil spirit responsible would return and harm his wife and three children. Sure enough, after Calvino visits the psychiatric ward where Lucas is held, something starts to haunt every member of his close-knit clan, though improbably and conveniently they all fail to share this disturbing development with each other. The detective believes he has a deadline to thwart the force bent on repeating the earlier murders. The terror level never reaches that of similarly themed works such as the movie Fallen. Clunky prose (e.g., Andy Tane, a cop, "is figuratively and literally a horse") doesn't help. (Jan.)
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The main character, John, a homicide detective dealing with the killer, returns home to a self involved family. They seem not real at all. Rather they come across as plastic and I had a very difficult time identifying or getting involved with them. All their needs as a perfect little upper middle class life is in place. The three children are also bright and perfect. The artistic wife; the same Her perfection revolves around making a small fortune selling her artwork. She is the perfectly attractive woman, as well. Their dog is even perfect, as is the two person house staff. The main character is the husband who is terribly emotionally scarred. Some 20 years earlier, as a boy, his family was slaughtered as well. They seem to need never leave the perfect little world under the roof. It's just not a real setting. I almost closed the reading there.
The plastic family is in touch with the outside, it seems, only when neccessary.
There are chapters given to the antagonist, psychotic murderer who seemingly re-surfaces after a long hiatus. There are excerpts from his journal which delve into his early life. I found those to be the most interesting parts of the novel. Though, when he re-surfaces, to begin his crimes anew a little less supernatural would have done well.
The family itself and their dealings with him really never waiver far from their "Perfect" status and become truly boring.
Wholly, the book is so-so. The ending is nothing special at all. It's just there. The saving grace is Koontz writing style, which is good given the book is not.
Kindle readers beware. The novel ends at around 88%. The remainder is given to a preview of another Koontz book.
Pros: The underlying concepts of the novel are solid and it is the primary reason I chose this book. The beginning had me solidly hooked (but that feeling later relaxed). I thought it was interesting stylistically how he switched to present tense for anything told from an evil POV.
Cons: I agree with many reviews that the narrative voice and dialogue he gives to the children was terrible. Nothing related from their POV is remotely convincing. These are the most precocious (or perspicacious, a word I now despise) child prodigies ever birthed. Constantly uttering inanities like "Chestnuts!" and "stupid this and stupid that," these passages just irritated me beyond belief, and with three children, you get three times the insanity, though Naomi (the 11-year old) is by far the worst.
I didn't care for the "Diary of Alton Blackwood" entries that pop up every few chapters. They are 100% irrelevant to the plot and only provide back story on the villain. In my view, the scariest villains are the ones that are enigmatic and unexplained. You can easily skip them if you choose (I didn't but wish I had), but I would have preferred they been included together as an appendix.
The last thing that bothered me, particularly in the last quarter of the book, is that I frequently found myself knowing what was going to or needed to happen next. I then had to slog through pages of characters wringing their hands until they had their eureka moment and the necessary action finally came to pass. It undermines the pacing.
Summary: While I realize I've listed more cons than pros, I think the perspicacious (ahhhhhh!) reader will get a decent amount of enjoyment out of it.
At it's core, he's rehashed old material. The spirit of a serial killer living on to 'infect' others is right out of Wes Craven's 1989 movie Shocker. The main character, a police detective who survived a childhood trauma, is taken from Stephen King's Black House - which was about Jack Sawyer (from The Talisman) who as an adult had become a police detective. Finally the notion that mirrors were somehow a portal for evil spirits - well, that goes to a bad Keifer Sutherland movie, aptly named Mirrors.
I miss the old Dean Koontz that could spin a truly original tale. This novel is entertaining, with a few suspenseful moments, but overall it's just a jigsaw puzzle of old material repackaged for a fan base that will read it because Koontz wrote it. I did the same, but he's disappointed me.