November 29, 2007
The Darkest Evening of the Year
The Darkest Evening of the Year by Dean Koontz
Rating: 2/5 (Below Average)
With each of his #1 New York Times bestsellers, Dean Koontz has displayed an unparalleled ability to entertain and enlighten readers with novels that capture the essence of our times even as they bring us to the edge of our seats. Now he delivers a heart-gripping tour de force he’s been waiting years to write, at once a love story, a thrilling adventure, and a masterwork of suspense that redefines the boundaries of primal fear—and of enduring devotion.
Amy Redwing has dedicated her life to the southern California organization she founded to rescue abandoned and endangered golden retrievers. Among dog lovers, she’s a legend for the risks she’ll take to save an animal from abuse. Among her friends, Amy’s heedless devotion is often cause for concern. To widower Brian McCarthy, whose commitment she can’t allow herself to return, Amy’s behavior is far more puzzling and hides a shattering secret.
No one is surprised when Amy risks her life to save Nickie, nor when she takes the female golden into her home. The bond between Amy and Nickie is immediate and uncanny. Even her two other goldens, Fred and Ethel, recognize Nickie as special, a natural alpha. But the instant joy Nickie brings is shadowed by a series of eerie incidents. An ominous stranger. A mysterious home invasion.
And the unmistakable sense that someone is watching Amy’s every move and that, whoever it is, he’s not alone.
Someone has come back to turn Amy into the desperate, hunted creature she’s always been there to save. But now there’s no one to save Amy and those she loves. From its breathtaking opening scene to its shocking climax, The Darkest Evening of the Year is Dean Koontz at his finest, a transcendent thriller certain to have readers turning pages until dawn.
Fred and Ethel. Now aren't those great dog names?! I wish I could say that the book was as great as the names. I was so excited to get the ARC from work last week, especially after such a good reading experience with The Good Guy. But alas, this was a huge disappointment for me. Don't get me wrong. The dogs were great. If it weren't for them, I would've quit the book well before the halfway point. But I kept reading, hoping to settle into what I thought was going to be a marvelous story. Unfortunately, two of the supporting characters were so cruel to a young child, it turned my stomach every time the story switched back to them. I honestly don't know why I bothered finishing the book. But I will say that a co-worker read the book in roughly 24 hours and loved it. She agreed that the verbal abuse was difficult to read, but she also felt hopeful and satisfied with the final outcome. So there you have it; two completely opposite opinions. Perhaps these passages will convince you to give the book a chance:
Golden retrievers are not bred to be guard dogs, and considering the size of their hearts and their irrepressible joy in life, they are less than likely to bite than to bark, less likely to bark than to lick a hand in greeting. In spite of their size, they think they are lap dogs, and in spite of being dogs, they think they are also human, and nearly every human the meet is judged to have the potential to be a boon companion who might, at any moment, cry "Let's go!" and lead them on a great adventure.
When Amy had first come into his life and had brought an arkful of canines with her, she had said that dogs centered you, calmed you, taught you how to cope. He had thought she was just a little daffy for golden retrievers. Eventually he had realized that what she had said was nothing less or more than the dead-solid truth.
Following an awkward silence, he said, "Dogs' lives are short, too short, but you know that going in. You know the pain is coming, you're going to lose a dog, and there's going to be great anguish, so you live fully in the moment with her, never fail to share her joy or delight in her innocence, because you can't support the illusion that a dog can be your lifelong companion. There's such beauty in the hard honesty of that, in accepting and giving love while always aware it comes with an unbearable price. Maybe loving dogs is a way we do penance for all the other illusions we allow ourselves and for the mistakes we make because of those illusions."
And, as you may recall from my previous reviews of Koontz's novels, I am easily distracted by his over-the-top similes. The following made me chuckle:
The fog imparted a pleasant chill to his exposed face and his bare head, and it suppressed most noises. He could barely hear the surf breaking, which sounded like ten thousand people whispering in the distance.
Thinking in similes and metaphors was a not always welcome consequence of being formed by literature.
"Like ten thousand people whispering in the distance."
It wasn't a very good simile, because why would ten thousand people be gathered anywhere to whisper.
Once the simile was in his head, he couldn't case it out, and it began to annoy him. Annoyance phased into uneasiness, and soon uneasiness became a deep disquiet.
As improbable as the image was, the thought of ten thousand people whispering together began to creep him out.
All right. Enough. It was just a damn simile. It didn't mean anything. Nothing meant anything, ever. He was doing fine. He was back in his groove. He was just swell. Hi-ho.
Koontz fans are well-aware of his love of dogs, particularly that of his own golden retriever, Trixie. The following letter was enclosed with the ARC and I thought I'd share it here:
As I was in the middle of writing The Darkest Evening of the Year, we lost our beloved golden retriever, Trixie, to cancer. For the next month, my grief was so intense, I could not write. Because for me the best thing about this job is working with our beautiful language and exploring the power of storytelling, I have spent most of my time at the keyboard and have done very little promotion over the years, yet in all those thousands of hours at my desk, I have never suffered writer's block--until that month of grief.
Trixie had not only brought beauty and humor and love into our lives but had made of us better people in ways that I will one day be moved to write about at book length. Losing her was, to me, like losing a child, a wise and radiant child; the pain was crippling.
The Darkest Evening of the Year is set against the background of dog-rescue. The lead, Amy Redwing, a woman with a shattering secret in her past, operates an organization that rescues abused and abandoned golden retrievers. As you know, every year such rescue groups save the lives of thousands of at-risk dogs of every breed. These people commit time, money, and their hearts to a mission of mercy. They embody the tendency to selflessness that I have long enjoyed celebrating in the lead characters of my novels.
At first, following Trixie's death, I was not sure that I could go on with this book, writing every day about the wonder of dogs. But this novel is also about persevering in the face of loss, about the profound mystery of dogs, about their unique relationship to us, about living life with purpose and with faith so that it has meaning. Not to continue with the book would have been a failure to have absorbed all the lessons that dogs in general and Trixie in particular had taught me.
Enclosed is a copy of The Darkest Evening of the Year. After that bad month, when I returned to the keyboard, I found myself possessed by the novel. I hope you will find this story gripping, amusing, and moving, but whatever you feel about it, I would be pleased to hear from you if you would like to drop me a line.
Wow. Having experienced the loss of a child and my first dog, I was quite moved by this letter and feel a deep sense of empathy for Dean's loss. And it is because of this that my wish is that you will all disregard my poor rating and give the book a chance. Especially my neighbor, Lynn, who happens to be a volunteer and foster parent for GRRIN (Golden Retriever Rescue In Nebraska). The book is yours, if you'd like it, Lynn!