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Off to ’Fraidy Cat Rehab

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Posted: Wednesday, May 18, 2011 2:37 pm

I'm not really happy about this spring rain we're getting. I don't think I could take a repeat of last year's non-spring, weird summer, and early winter. My garden doesn't like it either.

But - that aside - Saturday was a perfect night to read a scary book. I picked up Dean Koontz's new one 'What the Night Knows' and hunkered down to see what would happen next. Nothing like a scary story and a storm outside to let you know you're alive.

Having read most of his work, I know his novels can be hit-or-miss. Sometimes I forget a plot as soon as I put down the book. Others stick with me for a long time. Of Dean's work you can be sure of a few things: Good usually triumphs over evil; Something extraordinary will happen to ordinary, decent folks; there will probably be a dog in the story and that's just fine by me.

So 'Night' had all of these elements (even though the dog was a ghost) and it didn't disappoint.

And it was WAY creepy. A particularly evil dude commits some seriously effed-up murders when our hero John Calvino was a boy; Young John survived the murder of his family by killing the seriously evil Alton Blackwood and grows up to become a detective and have a happy family of his own.

But life gets weird for the Calvino family when murders begin again, repeating the methods used by the long-ago killed Blackwood. A strange series of events connects old and new murders with Mr. Calvino soon learning that he and his family are in danger by the nightmarish spirit of Mr. Evil Pants.

The story moves along at a brisk pace and never left me questioning the particular leap required to absorb such a disturbing story. And by golly if I didn't have to get up and lock doors and shut blinds to keep the boogeyman from peering in at me while I read my book in the living room. Isn't that always the way?

So, reading the book I got deliciously creeped out. But one of the things that Koontz does in his writing is add something that offers up comfort in the midst of all the terror. In this case, certain chapters of the book were written from the points of view of the three children. Zach, an almost teenage boy, was convinced all the weirdness was stupid (as many things certainly are for a 12-year-old boy). There were also two little girls, ages eight and eleven. Their conversations and thoughts were so endearing that I knew they would be okay. Koontz is not the kind of author to gratuitously sacrifice such delightful innocence. Eleven year old Naomi's glorious imagination about far away lands and magic actually invited the antagonist to use it to his advantage (not good). Eight year old Minnie had a sixth sense that helped save the family from certain death (good). When the odd events in the home first began, Naomi told her little sister Minnie that she was a 'fraidy cat and had to go to 'fraidy cat rehab. Indeed I was headed there myself. Even if you think you've read enough Koontz in your lifetime, give this book a chance.

Quick sidebar concerning two other really scary books I've read:

First: I was in my late teens and on a camping trip, sleeping under the stars with a trusty Coleman lantern at my side while I read "The Exorcist" by William Peter Blatty. I was with one other person and my dog. Scariest. Night. Ever.

Second: When I was in my twenties and lived in Huntington Beach, my roommate introduced me to Stephen King (thanks Wym). I was (literally) locked in my room reading 'Salem's Lot, quickly becoming a quivering puddle of fear, when my roommate came home late at night (he was a musician - they tend to do that) and did not have his house key. He knocked. I freaked out. I saw him out the window and lay my book on the side table by my bed and crept downstairs to let him in. I unlocked the door, flew back upstairs, shut the door and check to the book to make sure it was where I left it.

I was terrified and could hardly wait to read more.

For me, suspense books are worth the time and the fear. We aren't born afraid of things that go bump in the night, but a good writer can take us there. And I think it's important to let yourself get wrapped up in a book that scares the beejeebies out of you. And gives you good reason to check the locks on the doors and windows. Otherwise, you might never do that and who knows what will happen?