Best-selling suspense writer Dean Koontz has really been cranking the books out lately, and with mixed results. But unlike some authors who wilt under production pressures, that hasn't been his problem.
If anything, since Koontz began his two-novels-a-year pace, his storytelling has tightened up a bit, slicing a bit of the bloat from his annual epics.
No, Koontz's main problem is that his energies recently have focuses on his substantive points, giving his plots short shrift. Considering the pablum that permeates the best-seller list, particularly in Koontz's genre, that makes his books hard to dislike - even if they disappoint in the end.
"The Taking" is another Koontz fable that gives him plenty of chances to rail at the evils of modern society and its studied neglect of spiritual values. It is also his most hair-raising nightmare of a story since "Fear Nothing" and "Seize the Night."
This is a slam-bang, all-out thriller with chills, gore and violence in spades. But as is always the case when Koontz is in top form, "The Taking" also is poignant and noble, with heroism, self-sacrifice and redemption as the order of the day.
Molly and Neil Sloan are a childless couple who live in an isolated California mountain community. One day, a silvery, slimy rain begins and relentlessly starts washing things away. Soon, all kinds of catastrophic weather phenomena are being reported on CNN as the world goes into crisis.
As the Sloans huddle together in town with their terrified neighbors, people divide into camps over how to confront the menace, showing the depth - or depravation - of their character by how they treat others.
Something is radically altering the Earth and its environment, and the countryside soon is filled with strange, savage creatures. But if the planet is merely being colonized by an interplanetary force, why the extreme cruelty many of the actions directed against ordinary individuals - actions that require knowledge of each person and his spiritual weaknesses?
Is Earth being threatened by something from another world or something otherworldly? And does the answer even matter since resistance seems futile?
"The Taking" is reminiscent of an earlier Koontz novel, "Phantoms," in which a small town is threatened by a creepy, gooey substance. But this is more than an updating of "The Blob" or "War of the Worlds." Koontz has a point to make about the degradation of modern society, the popular culture and its lack of respect for life.
Koontz probably should have made a few plot points along the way that made a more direct parallel to the biblical story he ties his fable to, so readers could figure it out for themselves. Instead, he chooses to have a character figure it out at the end and tell us about it. It's dramatic and emotional, but a tad artless.
"The Taking" is tightly woven, action-packed and terrifically suspenseful throughout. Some will have a big problem with the way it ends, perhaps comparing it to the suddenness of Michael Chricton's "Sphere." While I disagree, it's a point worth debating - and it's been a while since Koontz had a book with an ending fans could be passionate about, pro or con.