The first novel written by Dean Koontz I read was Midnight. It must have been 1991 or 92—I was in my first year of college, the first go-around anyway, and I distinctly remember skipping class one morning to finish it. I also remember loving it. The characters were developed better than the average bestselling thriller and the plot was packed with tension, suspense, action and surprise.
Midnight was the first Koontz title I read, but it wasn’t the last. I’ve been reading two or three a year ever since. His work from the late-Eighties to early-Nineties has special appeal to me simply because it’s the first I discovered, but everything Dean Koontz writes is worth reading and a good deal of it is worth reading twice; Lightning, Midnight, The Bad Place, Night Chills, and From the Corner of His Eye instantly leap to mind, but there are others, many others, that are, or should be, classics in the suspense field.
The point? I took an older Dean Koontz novel off the bookshelf a few evenings ago and absolutely devoured it. The title: Shattered. It was originally published in 1973 as by K.R. Dwyer and it has lost none of its power over the intervening years.
Alex Doyle is a commercial artist who fell in love with a ready-made family. His wife Courtney and her younger brother Colin are Alex’s entire world, and when the newlyweds decide to move from Philadelphia to San Francisco Courtney flies out ahead to ready their new home while Alex and Colin make the cross-country trip in Alex’s new Thunderbird with the excitement of seeing the country coast-to-coast and a terrific chance for the two to bond.
The trip begins easily enough with the big Thunderbird eating away the miles, but it isn’t long before Colin spots a moving van that seems to be following. Colin is a sensitive and creative kid who quickly creates a story around their suspected tail—it’s the FBI following them with false information that Alex is a desperate criminal. It’s all fun and games, but Alex can’t help the low swell of unease that overcomes him.
As the day wears down the van seemingly disappears and Alex and Colin adjust to the normal routine of long distance travel, but the next morning, not too far from the motel the two spent the night, Alex spots the van in his rearview mirror. The unease of the previous day quickly turns to a blister of fear and he knows something is very wrong.
Shattered is the type of thriller you don’t see much anymore. It is concise, stark, and to the point. The plot is relatively simple—it reads something like Richard Matheson’s superb story “Duel,” but with the added narrative perspective of the believable psychopath that has become Koontz’s trademark. There is enough backstory blended into the narrative to create believable and likable characters, but not so much it bogs down. The action is choreographed well and easily matches the intensity of suspense created by the lucid and stripped down prose style.
Shattered is a step or two down from Koontz’s later work, but all the elements are there: the strong characterization, the well-built and believable plotline, and the murderous and paranoid bad guy. Not to mention, it’s both entertaining and good fun. If you have a chance to read this one, you should because they just don't write them like this anymore. And how I wish they did.