Few authors have given me as many thrills over the past decade and a half as Dean Koontz . And there are fewer still - especially novelists - who spend nearly as much time blasting all of the things I hate.
But it's getting harder to look forward to a new Koontz thriller in the same old way because this guy really needs an editor.
Since 1999's "False Memory," when Koontz began fighting all the pernicious philosophies in the world at once in each novel, his books have gotten longer and his prose flabbier. His tales' once-relentless pace, which helped make him one of the most popular authors in the world, now sometimes slows to a crawl.
"The Face," however, is more reminiscent of Koontz's good old days. There is a mysterious menace stalking the innocent, a race against time to solve an impenetrable puzzle and an action-packed climax.
While the reader still will get the feeling that Koontz has packed a 450-page plot into this 608-page book, the padding doesn't come in 100-page chunks as it did in "One Door Away From Heaven." And though it is 200 pages longer than "By the Light of the Moon," the pace of the "The Face" is faster, and it ends with a satisfying bang rather than an anticlimactic whimper.
Ethan Turner is an ex-cop who has taken a plush security job with Channing Manheim, the most popular actor in the world who is known as "The Face." Six strange boxes have been delivered to the immense estate, and Ethan is sure they are clues to a threat against Manheim.
Meanwhile, Aelfric Manheim, the neglected 10-year-old son of The Face and a supermodel, gets a series of telephone calls warning him to find a good hiding place. The calls, however, don't seem to be generated from an earthly source - and the last thing anyone should want to do is dial star-69 to return them.
Ethan's investigation gets him into some tight spots, including a couple of times in which he expects to open his eyes in the afterlife. But Ethan isn't the only guy who seems to have trouble staying dead. He is the executor for the estate of Dunny Whistler, a childhood friend gone bad who has disappeared from the hospital morgue - and the evidence suggests he left under his own power.
Targeting the Manheims is Corky Laputa, a serial anarchist. Corky is an atheist who believes in nothing except chaos. He is also a tenured literature professor who preaches the meaninglessness of life, believes in utilitarian bioethics and has engaged in Kavorkian-like behavior.
Helping Ethan is Hazard Yancy, his bulked-out former partner on the LAPD and a mysterious force that acts suspiciously like a guardian angel. Someone also seems to be watching over Aelfric - but are the warnings designed to help, or are they merely taunts from a malevolent source?
Unlike most of Koontz 's books, there is no romance in "The Face." It is the widowed, grieving Ethan becoming a father figure to Aelfric that forms the emotional core of this story.
Whatever its excesses in language and sometimes uncomfortable marriages of tone, "The Face" is Koontz's most creative effort in years. It's an enjoyable romp for the most part.
Koontz , however, should check out his earlier thrillers, such as "Intensity" and "Mr. Murder," which took a focused approach to social commentary rather than the scattershot treatment he's been using lately. He made his point better because his economy of the language and tight pace made sure readers didn't skim ahead to get back to the action.