What the Night Knows
Bantam Books, 2010, 442 pages, $28.00
Review by Wayne C. Rogers
The first book I read with Dean Koontz’s name on it was Demon Seed in 1973. A few years later, I read The Key to Midnight under his Leigh Nichols pseudonym and Funhouse under his Owen West pseudonym. It wasn’t until the publication of Whispers in 1980 that I began to think I’d found a new author who could seriously entertain me. When Phantoms was published in 1983, I became addicted to the writer’s fiction much like a junkie becomes hooked on heroin. After that, I needed a Dean Koontz fix every several months to keep myself from running out into the streets in my BVDs and shouting, “They’re coming! They’re coming!” I’m happy to say that after twenty-seven years, I’m still an avid fan of the novels by Dean Koontz. He never ceases to entertain and surprise me with each book that comes out.
Now, what does all of this have to do with his newest novel, What the Night Knows? Probably not a damn thing, except I personally think this book is the best piece of fiction Dean Koontz has ever written, which is quite a statement when one considers all the fantastic novels this man has created over the past forty years. What the Night Knows will literally grab you in a strangle hold within the first few pages and then not let go till you either die of asphyxiation or get to the last page. There’s no way you’ll be able to figure out what’s going to happen no matter how hard you try. I know because I attempted to guess the ending and was dead wrong. This book kept me on my toes as a reader, never letting up its whirlwind pace and surprising me with every twist and turn.
The story deals with John Calvino, a man who survived the massacre of his family at age sixteen by the psychopathic Alton Turner Blackwood, a villain so evil and hideous that his spirit comes back twenty years later to finish what he started. Calvino, who’s now a homicide detective, notices a stark similarity in the massacre of an entire household by its youngest sibling. When he questions the boy who murdered, tortured, and raped the members of his own family, Calvino is taunted and told specific information only Blackwood could have known.
But, Blackwood is dead, and has been for two decades.
John should know because he’s the one who shot the killer in the face several times when he came home from his girlfriend’s house one night, only to find his parents and two sisters violently murdered, and Blackwood performing his macabre rituals.
Calvino now suspects his greatest fear has materialized and the spirit of Blackwood has come back to get its revenge, but no one will believe him. The evil entity is now after Calvino’s wife and kids, and will use any means possible to kill them. The detective knows his family is targeted. All he has to do is to figure out how protect them against a ghost. As other families in the area are murdered, the clock is ticking for John Calvino and his loved ones. He just doesn’t realize how fast, or the special surprise the spirit of Blackwood has in store for him.
When I first started What the Night Knows, I found myself reading the sentences out loud because the words used by the author were so beautiful and breathtaking in their descriptions. It certainly showed me how far I still have to go as a writer. Of course, the author has also written over eighty novels. He’s like the Energizer Bunny on steroids when it comes to writing. Still, he outdid himself with his newest book. Not only are the words carefully chosen, but the characters are fully rounded, and you quickly get to know them as real individuals. The villain, Alton Turner Blackwood is certainly one of the most terrifying characters in fictional history and gave me the jitters that lasted for days.
The lead character, John Calvino, is much like the other male characters in the author’s previous books; brave, loving, truthful in most cases, filled with an inner sadness, and ready to do battle against those who might harm his loved ones. The wife and kids seem like the perfect family, which is why Blackwood wants to destroy them in the most horrible fashion. The plot has so many twists and turns in it that I finally gave up trying to figure out the ending and just went with the flow. I mean, how do you protect yourself against a malevolent spirit when no one believes you and even the Catholic Church won’t come to your assistance?
Right up till the last ten pages, I felt sure the Calvino family was going to be butchered, which is not the type of ending Dean Koontz is known for. Fortunately, he pulled a rabbit out of the hat and surprised me with the final outcome. Or, maybe the family was massacred in order to create a different type of ending from his unusual books. You have to read it to find out!
If, like me, you’re a Dean Koontz fan, don’t wait for the paperback to come out. Run to the nearest bookstore, or go directly to Amazon and buy the hardcover when it comes out near the end of December. You’ll want to grab this book up and find a secret place to read it. Why? So people will leave you alone! I lost count on how many individuals saw me reading this on the bus going to and from work. They wanted to know what it was about and if I would loan it to them once I was finished. My roommate, however, won the toss and now has the novel in her possession. I told her not to let Alton Turner Blackwood get under her skin, or she wouldn’t be able to sleep at night! Needless to say, this novel is highly recommended to those who want to sit on the edge of their seat, biting their fingernails in avid anticipation.