Suspension of Disbelief, Deus Ex Machina’s and a crap book by Dean Koontz
When I find a book that I really enjoyed, especially if it’s by an author that I have never read before, I will start going through their back catalogue and will jump on any new release as soon as its out in paperback (or on Kindle as my house is getting pretty full of books).
The converse is also true. If I read a particularly bad book it can mean I won’t ever pick up another book by that author again. I am a rather fickle reader, I will admit.
However, in recent years, one book stands out as being so absolutely awful that it immediately killed off any and all interest in reading anything else by that author, ever again.
That book was “Relentless” by Dean Koontz. Take a bow, Dean. You produced what may have been the single worst book I have ever read.
Let me tell you a story.
It was early 2010, and I was stuck in Edinburgh airport. My flight was suffering from a significant delay, and I had forgotten to charge the battery on my ebook reader, so it died within 10 minutes of my arrival at the airport. I headed to the WH Smiths and looked in vain for something that I was in the mood to read for the next four or five hours. After searching the shelves for about fifteen minutes, I eventually decided to pick up Relentless. I had enjoyed some of Koontz’s stuff in the past, so I thought there were probably worse ways I could spend the time waiting for my flight.
What follows is a spoilerific summary of this book. If you intend to read it despite what I have said, and don’t want to have any of the plot spoiled, then jump to the end.
Main character is a smug, self satisfied writer, who lives with his smug self satisfied writer wife and their highly intelligent, smug self satisfied prodigy child. A famous reviewer gives his latest novel a scathing review which knocks a little self satisfaction out of him and he confronts the reviewer, who begins to stalk his family using increasingly high tech methods.
He finds out that this has happened to every other author and artist whose work this reviewer has hated, and worse, finds that they are all dead, along with their families. He gets a little concerned over this and digs deeper, only to discover a massive conspiracy by an obscure branch of the government to silence artists whose work they see as deviant or likely to upset the status quo.
It ends in a thrilling climax where the protagonist is killed. Then the prodigy child turns back time using a device that he invented from bits of old tv sets and blenders. The protagonist then shoots the bad guys before they can shoot him and they go back to being smug and self satisfied.
What a pile of complete and utter shite.
The book, for 90% of it, is grounded in the real world. There are no mentions of anything in terms of scientific advancement that differentiates it from ours. So when their 8 year old brat manages to create a teleportation device for the family dog about 3/4 of the way through and then abruptly produces a time machine at the end as a big fat reset switch, I felt absolutely cheated. It was like someone had told me a bad lie. Worse, I had actually paid money to be told this big fat barefaced lie.
Now, by definition, all fiction is a lie. It’s a lie that we, the reader, accept. We suspend our disbelief and go along with the story. I have read and thoroughly enjoyed books with much more outlandish plot devices than were present in this book, and have enjoyed books with more irritating central characters. What broke this particular one was that, by introducing nonsensical science fiction elements into the story for no other reason than to support the lame ending, my sense of disbelief was shattered. The lie that we all accept but try not to think about was laid bare and it killed the book for me.
It’s probably fine for Dean Koontz to churn shit like this out, because people will buy it anyway. It is however, something that the rest of us should beware of, otherwise we could find our fledgling writing careers cut rather short.