Koontz widens his canvas dramatically while dimming the hard brilliance common to his shorter winners:1995’s taut masterpiece, Intensity, and 1998’s moon-drenched midsummer nightmare, Seize the Night. This time the author takes up mind control, wiring his tale into the brainwashing epics The Manchurian Candidate and last spring’s film The Matrix. The laser-beam brightness of his earlier bestsellers fades, however, as he stuffs each scene with draining chitchat and extra plotting that seldom rings with novelty. Martine “Martie” Rhodes, a video-game designer, has developed a rare mental disorder: autophobia, fear of oneself. Meanwhile, her husband Dusty’s young half-brother, Skeet Caulfield, has decided to jump off the roof of a building the two men are repairing—because Skeet has seen the Angel of the next world, who has revealed that things are pretty wonderful there, and he wants to come on over. Martie’s best friend, real-estate agent Susan Jagger, is newly coping with agoraphobia, fear of the outdoors. What’s more, Susan knows she’s being visited and raped at night by her separated husband, Eric, although all her doors and windows are locked. She can’t remember these rapes, but her panties are stained with semen. So when she sets up a camcorder to record her sleeping hours, she gets a huge surprise after viewing the tape. How these mental and physical events have come about—ditto the psychiatric background of the Keanuphobe millionairess who shows up (yes! she fears Keanu Reeves)—has something to do with the ladies’ psychiatrist, Dr. Mark Ahriman, the son of a famous dead movie director whose eyes the doctor keeps in a bottle of formaldehyde and studies, in hopes of siphoning off Dad’s inspiration. Although the whole story could have been told to better effect in 300 pages, Koontz deftly sidesteps clichÇs of expression while nonetheless applying an air pump to the suspense: an MO that keeps his yearly 17-million book sales afloat.