Friday, October 17, 2014

Odd Thomas & His Delightful Band of Bodach Bashers

I'm sure if anyone reads mainstream fiction these days (a growing rarity), they are familiar with author Dean Koontz's most popular series based on the lovable fry-cook and battler of creatures both seen and unseen, one Odd Thomas.

There's little I can add to the appeal of this work except that I'm surprised a series that does the opposite of what most mainstream fiction revels in, manages such a level of popularity. With book shelves swimming in depressing gore-fests and hateful main characters, Odd Thomas is something else entirely. It really is remarkable that a series centered around a gentle young man who strives to do the right thing despite overwhelming odds, and never backs down on his principles, remains so popular in a genre swimming with anti-heroes, glorified bad guys, and anti-traditionalists that hate the very society they claim to be predicting.

But more than just the character himself is the variety of stories Mr. Koontz has managed to tell with his young fry cook.

I don't read a lot of conventional thrillers not for any reason other than I like downtime in my stories and thrillers typically offer the opposite of the pacing I like. That said, there are exceptions. I can enjoy a good comedic thriller, one with a large cast of characters to keep track of, or one that manages to shake up a genre that can easily be the most predictable out there. Odd Thomas varies between all three of these, but never fails to be engaging the whole read not just through the original, but the rest of the books.

There are to be seven (technically eight) books in the series, though the last has yet to be released. I'm probably going to spend a post on each of these and why I enjoyed each of these books as much as I have and how they have turned my on to Mr. Koontz's more recent work. For now, though, let's look to the very first book.

The first of these is the one named after the title character, Odd Thomas. Dean Koontz apparently got the idea for this story as a flash of inspiration while writing The Face and wrote the first chapter entirely out by hand without editing it once. I'm sorry to say, it shows.

Most people tend to like this jarring first chapter, though I have a friend who does not. He finds it ricochets around a bit too much and forbids the story from truly firing out of the gate, but then the first book is his least favorite. I do agree that the beginning is a bit too long-winded, but think it gets going rather quickly after this early hump.

I quite enjoyed the home grown terrorism plot with a supernatural bent and the tour around Odd Thomas' town of Pico Mundo, but do agree that it takes a while to truly nail down the direction. For a standalone novel, this is understandable, but seeing as how it ended up being a series, some of it ends up being redundant, especially as we never see some of these characters in later books.

Odd (Yes, that's his name) is able to see the lingering dead, though they cannot speak to him, and spends most of his time either trying to help them "move on" or avoiding the ones who won't or have no plans to. Then there are these strange black creatures he calls "Bodachs" that appear when death and destruction on a large scale is nearby. These creatures are invisible to everyone except him, and they don't seem to notice that he knows of their existence. In this story, he has to deal with both these creatures and the undead. What ends up happening is a plot to destroy his very town and all those in it, and it is only with his power that bridges the living and dead that he can get the edge he needs to stop his town from becoming a mass graveyard.

What holds this story back to me is how similar in execution it is to the author's older thriller stories. For instance, in Fear Nothing, most of the exposition and plot is given out as the main character wanders through town at night and meets people who give him cryptic hints. In this story, most of the plot is dealt out the same way as Odd visits certain people throughout the day and night. Now, this is the only book in the series (though another one comes close) that does this, but it does tend to make the world-building more interesting than the story most of the time. Not always, but it happens.

One of the elements of the series that does warm the heart is Odd's devotion to his love, Stormy, which flows throughout all the books. He clearly and truly loves her and wants nothing more than to be with her, though the job keeps him away from her, his affection for her never fails to delight even in the darkest moments. But that's real love, right?

That's the best way I can describe this book and series. It is a shining light in the current darkness of our world, and Odd himself is a glimpse of the person we can hope to be when the darkness becomes too much. More than anything, I believe Mr. Koontz succeeds at this above all and it is completely invaluable advice we rarely get too often anymore in this world of villains disguised as heroes and a growing obsession with shock over substance.

As a whole, it's an enjoyable tale, not my favorite in the series, but a good start. It's easy to see why it became so popular and spawned such a reaction, though not so clear why a character that is so normal in ideals is seen as an odd character in the mainstream world (YES, PUN INTENDED!) when not very long ago he would be our ideal hero in fiction. He is the type of character we all strove to be more like. If anything, Odd Thomas is a sign that we want more normal people as protagonists who try to be better than they are, even if they are fry cooks who see the lingering dead.

Here's hoping the tide turns before Saint Odd, the final Odd Thomas book, releases in 2015.

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