THERE ARE SPOILERS APLENTY IN THIS REVIEW!!
I have to start this review by saying that I love Dean Koontz. He was one of my favourite authors growing up, and one of the people who made me long to be a writer. I would devour his thrillers, dreaming of the day I could write a book full of such terror and excitement, and I still think his early stuff is fantastic.
I hadn’t read a Koontz book in a while, and downloaded this on my phone to read while I was on a long train journey, looking for something fast and, well, relentless, to keep me occupied. And at first that’s exactly what this book was. The story follows an author called Cubby Greenwich who falls foul of a famously acerbic reviewer called Shearman Waxx. Knowing he should just let the criticism go, Cubby instead confronts Waxx (after a fashion) in a restaurant bathroom, only for the reviewer to utter a single, foreboding word: “Doom.”
What follows is, for the most part, a wonderfully written thriller. Waxx, it turns out, is a complete nutter, and he begins tormenting Cubby and his wife and child (the threat made even more sinister by the fact that we soon discover Waxx has done this before, to other writers, with horrific consequences). It starts off small, but rapidly escalates into full-on Cape Fear-style persecution. It’s gripping stuff, and truly relentless – I honestly struggled to put the book down and almost missed my stop. It becomes clear that Waxx is not working alone, but has a powerful, shadowy organisation behind him, and midway through the book reaches a wonderful pivot point, one of my favourite parts in any thriller, when Cubby decides enough is enough and decides to turn the tables on Waxx. Relentless suddenly becomes a fantastic revenge story, and the pace picks up even further.
If Koontz had found a decent way to end it then this would have been a five-star thriller, no doubt. Instead, though, he seems to have handed the book over to a small child to conclude. Seriously, it’s that bad. At various points through the story Koontz mentions that Cubby’s six-year-old son, Milo, is a genius, and the kid does spend quite a bit of the book making strange gadgets from everyday objects like salt and pepper shakers. There are also repeated mentions of their dog, Lassie, mysteriously finding her way into very small, enclosed spaces. I wasn’t quite sure where Koontz was going with all this, and to be honest I’m not sure he did either. But when we get to the last couple of chapters – SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT! – we discover that Milo has worked out how to build a machine (like I say, from a salt shaker and other bits and bobs) that can rewind time, and a side effect of this is that the dog can teleport.
Yes, you read that right. It completely ruined the book for me, because up until that point it was utterly grounded in reality. It reminded me of when I was a kid and couldn’t think of a way to end my story, so suddenly the main character would turn into a dinosaur and eat the bad guys, or discover he has laser jets in his eyes. These strange twists literally save the day for Cubby and co. I’m not quite sure how Koontz got this past his editor (probably just because he’s Koontz), but I’m fairly sure if a new, unpublished writer submitted a novel with an ending like this it would be laughed right back into its self-addressed envelope.
So… I was really disappointed with this, mainly because it started so well. I felt cheated by the laziness of the finale. Consider Relentless a five-star book right up until the end, but the last couple of chapters are little other than a farce.
I still love Dean Koontz, though
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