Before cracking the spine, of Odd Thomas I had not read anything by Dean R. Koonz since I as about thirteen, back when he was a contemporary with Stephen King and Clive Barker and an icon of horror. But as we know whether we’ve read anything by Koonz or not, he’s not really looked at like that anymore. For the last decade or so he’s been doing his level best to write something is just about every genre. And there has been a lot of books. But as the name suggests, even amongst a collectic rabble, Odd Thomas, seems to stand alone. The premise alone is what made me chose this book when deciding to revisit an old favourite of grade school years.
The books titular character, Odd Thomas is pretty ordinary for the most part. He’s a fry cook living in a small town in the shadows of San Diego. He isn’t necessarily athletic or good looking, and his goal in life appears to be marriage and working in a tyre shoppe (should he ever have have the strength to quit his job as at a local diner). But outward apperances can be deceiving even if his name tends to belay his obvious nature. Odd, has a singular ability that sets him apart from Anyone else in Pico Mundo, he can see dead people.
And its this ability that sends him hurling into head first into a terrorist plot with his beloved small town in the epicenter. But does this mystery meets the occult novel fun to read or merely just Odd? Read On to find out.
Odd Thomas is an affair, I don’t think the above or any description of the book I’ve read really, tends to catch. To be honest I don’t know if I’ve ever come across anything like it. And I don’t mean that in terms of theme, plot, or characterization or any of the trappings that tend to compose any work of fiction. To be honest, most of the elements of the book are borrowed from classic cliché and trope that you’ve undoubtedly read before. And even when while I was reading this book, there was in fact times when I shook my head at how pedestrian some of the things of the novel tended to be. But its one of those rare times in literature when you get something that really isn’t the sum of its parts.
The book starts on a sentimental high note, as an introduction where Odd Thomas (and believe it or not this is not a nick name, his parents were this horrible) explains why he has decided to write this retelling of perhaps the most traumatic few days of his entire life. He makes it important to mention that due the extreme nature of some of the events in the novel he was given advice to not dwell on the darkness. And credit where its due, Koontz delivers on this promise as best as he can, as a reader you can’t help but pat the author on the back for this.
It would be obvious even if it wasn’t stated, many times through the course of the novel’s actual narrative that it drew inspiration from some the legends of Mystery writing, like Agatha Christie, Sir Conan Doyle, Lillian Jackson Braun and many others. In such a fashion the book is told through the eyes of the titular character, leaving us with only one point of view to try to divulge the hanging plots and intrigue that weave their way through the narrative.
And where the narrative is fun, and keeps you reading the book, mostly due to the likeable character in Odd, the plot is an entirely different story. Though Koontz tries to remind us that there’s this over whelming dread hanging over the books head, the beats of the plot tend to dry it out. The pacing tends to be A to B and back again. With every misfortune Odd suffers surrounded with loads of auxiliary with a friend or with him lamenting on his love for his girlfriend. This pacing and rhythm made the sinister effects as they struck less impactful as they just were expected, and not coming out of left field.
The characters, I think is really what makes Odd Thomas special though. First there is the main character, who is telling the story. He’s pretty much as grounded a guy as you see can imagine, much different than the usuals in the more action oriented genres of writing. As mentioned before he’s a fry cook in a small town in southern California with little in the way of ambitions. He lives by himself in an apartment, with really a very down to earth type of life. He has a great girlfriend and is surrounded by people who tend to be the center of his life. Really the only ‘odd’ thing about him is his ability to talk to dead people, and see things on the other side of life. He even chums around with the ghost of Elvis.
Aside from Odd, there’s the aforementioned Llewellyn who is his girlfriend, and like him works in low wage bracket as careers, as a counter clerk at the frozen yogurt place at the local mall. There is also Big Ozzie who tends to be his best friend and the famous person in this town being a well-known writer. Outside of those two who tend to get the most screen time, there’s also the elderly town sheriff who looks at Odd like a son, and his boss at the diner who seems to respect him more than any boss ever should.
With all the kindness and virtue that seems to be over flowing in Pico Mundo, the antagonists are truly evil, corrupt and insidious as you’d expect. But through them and their actions Koonz introduces you to the world of Odd Thomas, filled with Ghosts, demons, and loads of things that you aren’t sure what they are. And the tapestry of the world is a lot of fun. It’s just a shame that with such a fun setting he couldn’t stretch anything out further.
The plot and the actual story however is where the wonderful setting and fun, tends to unravel. It is a detective novel, but I feel that it was trying too hard to be understandable, than to really give an honest go at a good mystery. Due to all the ghost elements, and so many characters it was probably difficult to keep on target and keep attention alive at the going-ons. Instead of being gripped with a mystery, you are often forgetting it’s there. And unlike most of the classics it tries to replicate, there is little in the way of twists and turns, as you roll into the climax you saw from a few miles away.
Though even with the rather ham fisted plot, and poorly veiled mystery, I did enjoy Odd Thomas. It was fun, and not all that heavy in emotional interest. It was sort of like reading a cartoon. If you like having a book that makes you smile, and you like old Agatha Christie style narration, you should really give it a shot. I’d also say if you enjoy characters sometimes more than the actual story, you will really like this book. I know I’ve already got the second book on my book shelf, looking forward to dipping back into the world. And hopefully with the second round we won’t have information getting in the way of a mystery.