Koontz’s suspense masterpieces (Intensity, 1996; The Face, 2002) have tight plots or strikingly enclosed worlds. But you can’t win ’em all, and despite the lift he strives for, these pages go by on automatic pilot.
Suspense here turns on the life of Odd Thomas, 21, an unassuming lad gifted with the power to see dead people who cannot tear themselves from Pico Mundo, Odd’s small hometown abroil on the Mojave Desert—as neither can Odd, whose “agoraphobia” has not let him drive or step outside the town. Ever. Koontz focuses on the little world of Pico Mundo itself, its physical layout and the lovable eccentrics who fill it chock-a-block. Among others, there’s 400-pound romance-and-mystery novelist P. Oswald Boone (better known as Little Ozzie), and Odd’s landlady Rosalia Sanchez, who fears turning invisible. Odd—a flashy fry-cook—works as a kind of Tom Cruise of the griddle at Terri Stambaugh’s Pico Mundo Grille. Terri is an Elvis savant who knows what the King was doing every hour of his life. Odd’s confidential tie with Police Chief Wyatt Porter has led Chief Porter to varied murderers and artists of mayhem whose victims have hung around and pointed out to Odd just who murdered them. Then to the grille comes strangely fungoid Bob Robertson, followed about by black bodachs, hungry doglike shadows sniffing out folks scented with death. When Odd secretly steals into Robertson’s house, he finds first a housekeeping mess, then a computer workroom of Spartan order whose files reveal the mind of a mass murderer. And Odd stumbles upon a room of pure blackness—perhaps an adjunct to King/Straub’s Black House? The date August 15 is torn from Robertson’s desk calendar. Terri tells Odd, who is often followed about by the tearful and warning ghost of Elvis, that Gladys Presley died on August 14 and Elvis on August 16. Does the missing date mean Robertson will go berserk on the 15th—and kill Odd as well?
With its tender surprise ending, call it It’s a Wonderful Sixth Sense, built out of wet pulp and milk.