KOONTZ, DEAN. What the Night Knows. New York: Bantam Books, 2010. ISBN: 978-0-553-80772-1. Pp. 442. $28.00.
Everything in Dean Koontz's newest novel seems to be haunted. People, houses, mirrors. Even the dedication reads: "To Gerda, who has haunted my heart since the day we met". I'm pretty sure that my copy comes to life at night, because one morning I woke up to inexplicably find a hairball and two dead cockroaches on my living room floor. An omen, perhaps?
Apart from being a horror novel, What the Night Knows also has a streak of detective thriller in it. Except that this book starts where most mysteries end, with the detective, John Calvino, face to face with the killer, mild-mannered fourteen-year-old Billy Lucas, who up and violently murdered his family one day. As it turns out, Billy was haunted by the spirit of the real killer, Alton Turner Blackwood, whom Calvino had shot and killed twenty years ago, but only after Blackwood had killed Calvino's entire family. That Calvino survived while his family perished is bad enough. Unfortunately for his conscience, he survived because he had sneaked off to have sex at his girlfriend's house. Now, twenty years later, Blackwood has come back to finish off the job. I guess.
If it weren't for the gory violence, I would say this book should really be for children. Three of the novel's protagonists are John Calvino's children, aged thirteen, eleven, and eight, and while the book is written in the third person, the voice changes depending on who is dominating the scene. Thus do we get a lot of sentences such as this one, "Sister Half-Pint had infected Naomi with spookitis;" or "Now he was going to search the service mezzanine not because a bad guy was lurking around up there, scheming and cackling like some Phantom of the Opera wannabe, but just for the principle of it, to prove to himself that he wasn't a chickenhearted, gritless jellyfish."As an adult reader, I found this kind of narrative, straight out of E. Nesbit or the Boxcar children, exasperatingly cloying.
Unfortunately, John Calvino, while at the center of the action, carries little weight as a character. Even as a detective he is ineffectual, being on unpaid leave throughout most of the book. Fortunately his wife is a successful artist, whose good luck has brought them a large house and a married couple who do all the cooking and cleaning. Throughout the novel, Calvino witnesses countless brutal murders, and while we are assured that he is affected by what he sees, his demeanor changes not a bit from the beginning to the end of the novel. I don't really want to give away the ending, but he is given a magical opportunity to go back and change the past and right his wrongs, a veritable narrative cop-out if you ask me.