Success is the ruin of too many novelists, as publishers' - and the public's - demands gradually outstrip their creative supply. For two best-selling authors, however, the opposite is true.
Dean Koontz and Jonathan Kellerman have been favorites of suspense fiction fans for about two decades. Instead of settling into lazy grooves as certified legends of their genre, both have ratcheted it up in recent years, turning out a book every 6 months - and producing the best work of their careers.
But the similarities don't end there. Both authors explore many of the same issues in their work, though their approaches and styles are wildly different.
For instance, each man has written cuttingly of the pseudo-intellectual drivel that permeates academia and of the ultimate danger if such things are taken seriously.
Koontz writes emotionally from the common man's sense of scorn for such foolishness, while Kellerman writes as a serious intellectual who is offended in the moral as well as intellectual sense.
Each vigorously condemns the utilitarian view of life and has villains acting as though the life not worth living - by their standards - might as well be taken.
The hubris of a human being appropriating God's role in the universe has been a common theme in science fiction since "Frankenstein," but it has become a staple of these two writers, too. Koontz looks at end-of-life issues in "Velocity;" while Kellerman's villain is more interested in life's beginnings - up to a point.
"Velocity" will most remind Koontz fans of "Intensity," and it is just as appropriately titled. This gripping thriller moves like a rocket through moral and physical dilemmas, crushing violence and unexpected bursts of tenderness.
Billy Wiles, a bartender, is an offbeat but kind-hearted loner with a strong sense of justice and unexpected resources. The only thing openly remarkable about Billy is that for four years he has tended to his comatose fiancee, Barbara, using every dime of an insurance settlement to keep her alive despite her doctor's active advice to remove her feeding tube.
Then Billy finds a note on his windshield inviting him to play God in the sickest kind of way. If he doesn't bring the note to the police, "a lovely blond schoolteacher" will be slain - but if he does, "an elderly woman" engaged in charitable work will be killed. He shows the note to a deputy friend who scoffs at it ... until a teacher is horribly beaten to death.
Then Billy gets another note - offering another grisly choice - and the gruesome game is on.
Tightly plotted, excruciatingly suspenseful and thought-provoking, "Velocity" is Koontz in top form. People who forget that the Terri Schiavo feeding tube case was in the news long before the recent media frenzy might wonder how Koontz got into print so quickly a book with a hero so calculatedly the opposite of Michael Schiavo.
Meanwhile, "Rage" is Kellerman's 19th book featuring psychologist Alex Delaware, who spends a lot of his time consulting for his best friend, LAPD Homicide Lt. Milo Sturgis.
Alex gets a blast from the past when he is called by a newly released Rand Duchay, who was convicted as a dimwitted teenager of helping in the abduction and murder of a toddler. When someone puts a bullet in Rand's head, Alex discovers a pattern of deaths of those who had been involved in the case - including that of the stone-cold psycho who manipulated Rand.
Hoping that the killer is not going to be the grieving father (to whom Milo would like to give a medal), the sleuths uncover a common thread in all the cases: a couple who seem equally adept at manipulating religious and state resources to make a good living "counseling" and housing troubled teens.
In a case that shakes even these two veterans of battling the depraved, Alex and Milo confront a killer who craves the power to both create and destroy life.
"Rage" is another superb suspense novel from Kellerman. While not as obvious as Koontz in making his points, Kellerman does seem to purposely tweak politically correct conventions. Here, he reminds us that abortion is big business, and striking down parental notification laws has the consequence of protecting against the smallest percentage of abusers while opening the door for manipulation by the greater number.
Despite the carnage, depredation and cold-bloodedness of some truly horrific villains, "Velocity" and "Rage" ultimately are life-affirming and redemptive.
But make no mistake. Despite their high-minded intentions and thoughtful ruminations on some heavy topics, these books deliver heaping helpings of the chills that every suspense fan is looking for.