Upbeat Cynicism

what do you mean i lost my mind?

Mr. Murder by Dean Koontz, 1993

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[Editor’s note: OK, here’s a little actual content, culled from the trusty old notebook.]

If you read enough Dean Koontz”Enough” being equivalent to significantly less than a quarter of his massive ouvre. you very quickly realize that one price he — or rather, his readers — pays for his profligacy (he frequently publishes two novels a year) is repetition.

From book to book, the same details and insights pop up, again and again. As a recent example, in both From the Corner of His Eye (2000) and Life Expectancy (2005) a central character goes into labor, and the description of how to tell the difference between false and real labor is nearly word for word the same between the two books.

More generally, if I were to ask which of his books published between the mid-1980s and mid-1990s featured ruminations on sodium-vapor or mercury-vapor lights, scenes where characters swapped licence plates in a darkened parking lot or garage so they coulod avoid detection by the police, and someone suffering at least one fugue state for mysterious reasons, the answer would necessarily be “all of them!”

As much as pieces of research, odd vocabulary, similar scenes and so forth have carried over from book to book, however, I don’t recall another case where Koontz repeated the entire plot of one book in another. Mr. Murder is, in terms of plot and structure, the same book as Watchers (1986), though better done.

In both novels, a secret organization has created a genetically-engineered monster designed purely for killing, and that monster, and it is the first of a planned series of such monsters. Both monsters escape their masters, discover a psychic connection with one of the protagonists, and hunt them down. There’s an initial confrontation on the protagonists’ home turf, following which the protags flee to an isolated cabin in the wilderness and prepare for a final confrontation, which inevitably comes. All the while, the monster’s creators are trying to regain control over him and the situation as a whole. The monster in each book is ultimately more pitiable than horrifying, because his self-will is irrelevant — he’s doing what he was made to do, regardless of whether he wants to do it or not.

The two books have many differences, of course. The characters, the nature and goals of the secret organizations, the details of incident, and most of the thematic concerns are completely different, as are the timeframes of the narratives — Watchers covers about a year, IIRC, while Mr. Murder takes place in about five days, excepting the denouement.

None of this means that either book is bad. In fact, Mr. Murder is a better book than its predecessor. In Watchers the theme was supported mostly by the throw-away details, the non-plot scenes and incidents, while the plot itself provided drive and suspense and not a whole lot more. In this book, everything ties into the theme, giving a much better focus and integration to the ideas Koontz is dealing with.

So, now that I’ve given away the plot structure, what’s it about? 😉

Well, Martin Stillwater is a mystery novelist who’s starting to gain some success. He’s father to two smart and adorable daughters, husband to a smart and loving wife and, over all, things are just going pretty darned well.

He’s in his study, alone in the house, dictating notes for a new novel into a tape recorder, when he decides to stop recording and check something he said a minute or two before. He rewinds the tape to about the right spot, but there’s no dictation there. Just his own voice chanting “I need… I need… I need…”. Which he doesn’t remember at all. And there’s seven minutes of it. Seven minutes he has no memory of, during which he kept repeating “I need” with increasing desperation. He’s afraid he might have a brain tumor. Or worse. And subsequent to that fugueTold you. he’s been experiencing a growing sense of dread — of doom — which he cannot explain.

Some two thousand miles away, an assassin has just finished a job. He has no name. No memories except movies he’s watched. No idea whom he works for, nor who his victims are. As he drives away from the scene of his latest murder, he pulls onto the freeway and begins speaking to nobody. “I need… I need… I need…”, but he doesn’t know what he needs. He keeps working at it and, with struggle and time, pulls out a little more: “I need… to be… I need… to be…”. Finally, he hits it: “I need to be somebody!” And he feels something pulling him westward. He doesn’t know what, or how, or why. He only knows that, when he gets there, he will find his life waiting for him.

And, man, if that setup doesn’t entice you, you need help.

Mr. Murder is compelling from front to back, and is typical of Koontz’s output in the ’80s and ’90s. It’s one of his best works of that time and odds are if you like it you’ll enjoy most of what he wrote then, and maybe even his current work (although he’s gone supernatural in recent years, alas).

Besides, if you don’t read it, you’ll never learn why Lethal Weapon 3 is the best movie in history. 🙂

Written by [IMH]

30 October 2006 at 8:12 pm

Posted in Literature

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  1. Sadly, the movie isn’t nearly as good.

    JP Gibb

    1 November 2006 at 9:13 pm

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