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He still keeps saying, “I’m just a fry cook,” even though it’s been 19 months since he last wielded a spatula in anger. During that time, he has followed the tug of his psychic senses from one horrific ordeal to another. He has stopped mass murders before they happened. He has staved off a nuclear apocalypse, canceled an alien invasion, and unpicked a snarl in the fabric of space time. He has exterminated nests of serial killers, rescued kidnapping victims from demonic villains and their undead minions, and helped the restless spirits of the dead move on to the next big thing. He has accepted help from spunky old ladies, protected the lives of innocent children, and in all probability, saved the world. But he doesn’t like to think of himself as anything more than a humble fry cook. It’s one of the things we love about Odd Thomas.
And it’s a good thing we love him so much. Otherwise we wouldn’t want to keep going to the places where his Spidey sense takes him. In this volume of his ongoing adventures, Mr. Fry-Cook-Who-Sees-Dead-People gets mixed up with a truck driver who is hell on wheels. (I know, I know.) Besides dressing like a Rhinestone Cowboy and driving a rig that looks like a mobile summoning circle for a demonic entity of breathtaking power—oops! spoiler!—this trucker is somehow involved in the kidnapping of seventeen children in the southwestern U.S. Among the first-time experiences Oddie collects from their encounter is a waking premonition that Mr. Rhinestone Cowboy will be involved in the horrific murder of those children. Another first is discovering the ability to travel between our world and another dimension, which Odd aptly names Elsewhere: a formless place filled not so much with things as with the idea of things. Elsewhere, in turn, proves to be a bridge between our world and a nameless place of horror and darkness, where something dwells that wants to eat Odd’s face off, just for starters. The third and final first, if you’ll pardon my oxymoron, has to do with the rule that spirits of the dead don’t talk. Sure, they don’t. Until now.
That should be enough to bring you along for the ride when Odd, a little old lady with a stretch Mercedes limo, and a famous filmmaker who is looking awfully perky for having died in 1980, follow a trail of psychic clues, and arm themselves with some very solid weaponry, before joining the regularly scheduled scene of horror and vileness in the mountains outside Las Vegas. Plan for gouts of blood, hideous death spasms, long stretches of agonizing suspense, and furious struggles for life and death using guns, blades, and the occasional well-tossed piece of fruit. Then adjust your diet accordingly.
This is one of the Odd Thomas novels, but which one is it? Clearly it takes place after Odd Apocalypse and before the most recently published book in the series, Saint Odd. According to Fantastic Fiction, that makes this the sixth novel in the series. By my reckoning, however, it’s the seventh—because, unlike Fantastic Fiction, I consider Odd Interlude part of the series rather than a separate entity. The fact that it was originally published as a three-part e-book no longer has any relevance, now that it also exists as a one-volume paperback. The author’s own listing makes the matter even more complex, because he includes the graphic novels In Odd We Trust, Odd Is On Our Side, and House of Odd in the sequence, though they are in a different medium, are co-written by other authors, and are partly a reworking of previous books. So, going by one list of the Odd Thomas canon, I skipped over three books to read this one; and by another list, I’ve read one book too many. So be it. From the top, with feeling: This is the seventh old-school novel in the Odd Thomas series, in canon and publication order, entirely written by Dean Koontz. Disagree with me at your own risk.
Disagreements are an occupational hazard among readers of Dean Koontz’s most successful series. I have already mentioned a reader who commented on one of my earlier reviews, stating that she liked the series but, at the same time, hated the right-wing politics to which Koontz gives increasing bookspace. Yes, he says some things that sound like libertarian and Tea Party chatting points, such as rattling off statistics about which government agencies recently bought how many rounds of ammunition. Koontz concludes that our country’s leaders may be arming themselves for a civil war. At the same time, the conclusion he wants us to draw is not that we should take the war to them, but that changes in our society’s values over the past few generations will soon make such a conflict inevitable. Simply put, the evil that lurks in human nature is breaking loose. A battle between good and evil, a spiritual battle, is daily becoming less the stuff of fantasy novels and more the stuff of everyday life. Monsters are real and there has never been a greater danger that they will destroy our world. Democrat or Republican, libertarian or progressive, you should consider the evidence of that, which Odd Thomas soulfully narrates. The specific battles he fights are fiction. The battleground is the real world we live in.
Most celebrities, journalists, and politicians these days are steering the ideology of our culture in one particular direction. Koontz is one of a view voices crying out to turn another way. It may be a conservative direction, in the sense of being an old way from which a more enlightened age might want to turn. It may be conservative rather in the sense that it aims to pull our world back from a precipice toward which it is bound. Should we close our ears and shout down the voices that call out to us from a path other than the wide crowded road? Should we hate and wish into silence the thinkers and thoughts that deviate from the party line of our time? In my parents’ generation and for some time before it, the enlightened class insisted on hearing the views of transgressive thinkers. Now, as my generation comes into its power, those thinkers have staked out their claim in the mind of our society and posted “No Trespassing” signs. I, for one, don’t care what wing today’s offbeat thinkers supposedly hang out on. I think we should thank them for giving us a different point of view on our world, to rattle the mental chains that we do not realize we are wearing, to challenge the assumptions that blinker our perspective. And we should be more ready to consider ideas that add meaning to our existence, than to dismiss them.
In this book, Odd Thomas is a character struggling to process new information that could radically alter his world-view. He isn’t ready yet to deal with their full implications. He is a thoughtful character, honest enough to admit that there are some things about which he has not been honest with himself. In this book, he reaches a crucial point of balance, a tipping point toward accepting a new and awful truth about the world and his place in it. Because I happen to be reading this series alongside F. Paul Wilson’s Repairman Jack novels, I am struck by the coincidence that both characters—though different in so many ways, in spite of their ruggedly independent nature—are reaching the same tipping point in the books where I last left them: the point of accepting that evil is not just an abstract idea, but a living power, personified in an Enemy or Adversary against whom every human being must fight. And in each series of books, the hero is one of a handful of people called to stand against that Enemy in an especially significant way. Each installment brings them closer to that head-on confrontation that must finally come. Each adventure prepares them a little more. Saving the world isn’t just something you get up and do. It is, in the experience of Odd Thomas as well as Repairman Jack, something you are brought to. Until we see the full design, we readers will be held enthralled.