Dean Koontz, Odd Thomas (2003)

Odd Thomas

Author: Dean Koontz

Title: Odd Thomas

Format: Paperback

Pages: 446

Series: Odd Thomas #1

Koontz is a very prolific writer; he wrote over a hundred books and plenty of short stories, and has been a household name for American horror/thriller genre for ages. Somehow I had never been drawn to his work, maybe because I’m no great fan of horror 😉. I did read a King or two, and didn’t enjoy it, and I didn’t expect to change my mind for Koontz. But Bookstooge highly recommended both Odd Thomas and Lightning, and patiently kept recommending it, until I finally grabbed the book and read it. And I’m happy that I did, even if I won’t be going back to Odd Thomas’s world anytime soon.

Odd Thomas is a 20-year-old short order cook; he lives in a small, sleepy town and his most fervent wish is – for both the town itself and him in it – to remain this way forever. The slightly artificial, allegorical character of the novel, which from a certain perspective can be seen as an inherently old-fashioned yet very modernly, thrillingly written moral fable, is discernible from the first sentences – actually, from the moment when we learn that the name of Odd’s town is Pico Mundo. Small world, indeed.

Odd Thomas is a very likeable character: extremely humble, unprepossessing and caring, self-deprecating, gentle and well-behaved, he is the perfect image of a perfect boy as envisioned by an old-fashioned grandma. You’d all want him as an in-law (if you didn’t know better). Really, with his manners and unending optimism and willingness to selflessly serve others he is a character who’d feel more at ease in 1950s than in our wild 2000s. And that’s also intentional, I wager (well, I would if I were the wagering sort – which I’m not 😉).

Odd is indeed odd, in every conceivable way, and his unusual views and behavior fit perfectly into the genre of the moral fable. In the flashy modern world full of fast money and endless rat races and the doomed, desperate longing for unattainable happiness seen on the TV and computer screens he remains the quixotic personification of rigid adherence to moral values even in the face – or especially in the face – of personal risk and loss. Does he sound too good to be true? You bet. For Odd is the ultimate flawless hero, destined to face the darkest evil. Think St George and the dragon. Think Jeanne d’Arc. Think thoroughly modernized Lives of the Saints. (No, I don’t suggest that you buy it – but if you have no experience of Catholicism, sainthood may come across as something of an exotic novelty.) If you’re on board with this, you’ll enjoy the book. If not, you might still enjoy it, because it’s a thrilling ride. But if you actively scoff at any of the above – be warned: it’s like this for all 446 pages.

Albrecht Dürer - Saint George Killing the Dragon

Even Odd’s voice sounds a bit off; definitely older than 20-year-old, possibly more like a 40- or 50-year-old recounting his story and reflecting on his younger self. But as the book is written as a memoir, with a suggestion of coaching/editing from an older friend who happens to be a successful writer, that tonal difference is excusable. And, as we deal with a flawless, innocent, saintly hero, a bit of improbability seems spot on and, weirdly, makes the protagonist more relatable.

Odd’s sole dirty secret is that he can see dead people. They don’t speak, but they interact with him, communicating their needs and feelings with surprising clarity. And boy, they are a needy bunch, demanding from Odd actions in the real world that they themselves can no longer perform. Finding and apprehending murderers, preventing mass killings, comforting Elvis (yes, that Elvis, an awfully emotional fellow) – that’s every day for Odd Thomas, and the main reason why despite his sharp mind and surprising levels of learning he wants to work as a short-order cook in a local grill. Or an assistant in a tire shop. Preferably forever.

But the world catches up to him quickly, and Odd faces a terrifying threat. When demonic bodachs swarm his sleepy town in anticipation of slaughter, it falls to Odd Thomas to find the guilty party and prevent a mass killing. Does he rise to the challenge? You really don’t need to ask 😉.

So: obviousness, holier-than-thou attitude, literal, at times rather clunky interpretation of a moral fable as a genre, strongly asserted Catholic worldview, manifest improbabilities in the psychological makeup of our protagonist (don’t get me started on his parents)… And yet, all those caveats aside, I enjoyed reading Odd Thomas. And I must say one thing for Koontz; that guy knows the meaning of “atmosphere.” Odd Thomas simply oozes atmosphere, building a foreboding feeling of threat pervading the novel with menacing slowness and enviable surety. It’s there, constantly and unavoidably, like a storm cloud on the horizon. It fills even the most innocuous scenes: the description of Pico Mundo streets at noon in the middle of the hot New Mexican summer, filled with sunlight and heat, and crisscrossed by the dark shades of branches; a pair eating ice cream in a mall; a discussion with a friend at his house. There are also certain supernatural elements adding a touch of uncanny to the very mundane world in which Odd Thomas is an exception: the creepy anthropomorphic hounds of Hell, bodachs, sniffing around for the promise of carnage; the uncanny room in a abandoned hovel in the poor suburbs of the town, hiding cold and baleful back door to parallel universe – or maybe devil’s wardrobe? Yes, there is a pronounced traditional Christian/Catholic undercurrent in this novel: evil as a sentient force actively fighting against good, satanism as an ideology and a form of religion, the idea of Providence, the underlying concept of sainthood… As I said, a moral fable/horror/modern Wild West thriller 😉.

All in all, I enjoyed this story surprisingly much. While I have no intention of coming back to Odd Thomas’s world, because I feel that: 1) a moral fable – in any disguise – works best in solitude, and any concept of series based on this idea is rather off-putting, threatening to cover the same ground over and over again, 2) I’m not buying into the concept of modernized sainthood, and 3) this is a solid self-contained story, any sequels to which seem simply redundant, I found Odd Thomas to be an entertaining, thrilling and bewilderingly touching book. The ending surprised me (and now I ruined it for everybody, I’m pretty sure you’ll all be on the lookout now for surprises and clues throughout the book 😉), and this happens rarely enough these days that it deserves an additional star.

Score: 7.5/10

36 thoughts on “Dean Koontz, Odd Thomas (2003)

  1. I am a Dean Koontz major fan and even I didn’t like all the Odd books and thought the series was too much of the same. It should have been a standalone. Glad ye be keeping it that way.
    x The Captain
    PS Lightning is awesome.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve never read Koontz’s stuff before either, but I do have this one of my TBR. It was recommended to me a while back but I haven’t yet worked around to it. Good to see you liked it. It does appeal to me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s a surprisingly entertaining book; the creepy atmosphere is pervasive, the action is fast-paced and most bets are off when it comes to the survival of the characters. I haven’t written about it, the review being long enough even without any additions, but there’s a nice supporting cast of secondary characters who you can’t help but feel for – and it’s a big plus! I’m very happy you’re interested, I hope you’ll like it too! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Hurray, you actually like a Perfect Hero book! I’ll convince you of the need for heroes and saints yet 😉

    Considering your several reactions, you’re definitely making the right choice in sticking with just this first book. I would, however, highly recommend watching the movie. Even though you know the surprise ending now that you’ve read the book, I found it to be a fantastic adaptation.

    And I still recommend Lightning 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. With my Catholic upbringing you might need a miracle to pull it off, my friend! 😀

      The movie is on my list already, thanks to you 😉 It looks nice (though I’m not convinced by the bodachs), and Yelchin seems like a good fit for Odd. And I still like Dafoe, he’s a solid actor despite some of his cringeworthy roles 😉

      Lightning is on my list, too! And again, it’s your fault 😛 (though many people recommend it, actually – as a side note, I think Odd Thomas would have been recommended much more if it was a standalone like Lightning, and not a lengthy series with deteriorating quality. I remember you told me outright that only the first book is worth reading, and I’m going to take you at your word ;)).

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Miracles. I believe in them, so…..
        😉

        Yelchin was the PERFECT Odd as far as I was concerned. I hate to say this, but with his death, that movie will be the only Odd Thomas movie, which is a good thing.

        Because, yes, while I enjoyed most of the other Odd books, they simply weren’t as good and were much more formulaic Koontz…

        Liked by 1 person

        1. 😉

          I get what you’re saying. The serialization is a problem, because in many cases the output just gets worse and worse, but because it’s a whole separate bubble of economic forces at play, the writers/producers keep on going: there are bills to be paid, after all. Still, Yelchin’s death was a tragedy and a horrible loss. And knowing Hollywood, they will get back to Odd Thomas franchise sooner or later, anyway.

          Good to know my instincts work! 😀

          Liked by 1 person

  4. Reading your reviews is always a pleasure on its own, and every time you make me curious even when I am not the tiny little bit interested. I am not a fan of horror book, I am sad to say that I find King’s books quite boring, I always steered clear of Koontz, what you wrote about the moral fable and the atmosphere are huge signal to steer clear of this book to and yet you managed to make me curious all the same!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That’s the nicest compliment I’ve ever received about my reviews! 😊😊😊 Thank you, Susy!

      And I do get it, I’m not fond of horror, or King (though some say he actually did write a good book or two 🤣). Frankly, I was quite surprised to like this book as much as I did 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Of King’s novels I read Salem’s Lot and Misery, and didn’t like either of them. But I heard that the one about JFK is good 🙂 Haven’t heard about Heart in Atlantis, I’ll keep it on my radar!

          Liked by 1 person

            1. Yeah, exactly! 🤣 Well, fortunately we have so many better books around that the only threat out there is to our overburdened TBRs, which simply may not cope with the abundance! I keep adding more and more books to mine thanks to you all! 🤣🤣🤣

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    1. I’m very happy to be the source of that hesitation! 😀

      Most of my fellow bloggers recommend either Odd Thomas or Lightning. As you can imagine, with over 100 books under Koontz’s belt not all of his works are equally good – but there are some solid ones, definitely worth trying out! And on the plus side, you’d probably speed through this one! 😄

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I second “Suzy’s Cozy World’s” comment about really enjoying reading your reviews. 🙂 I have ‘Lightning’ on my tbr pile, so this could nudge it up a few places. Wow! Over 100 books is quite amazing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! 😊
      Lightning is on my TBR, too, but I will allow some time/mental space between Odd Thomas and it – a three-field system, or a crop rotation, if you will 😉, works best for me.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. While I did read a few Koontz book in my long-gone youth 😀 I don’t think I ever read this one, which seems a bit different from the author’s usual stomping grounds of strange phenomena and supernatural entities. It sounds like an interesting concept but it also seems to rely on allegory, which I’m not sure would be my proverbial cup of tea…
    Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, pooh! Youth is gone when we say it’s gone, not a second earlier! 😁

      According to some faithful Koontz fans this and Lightning are the best 🙂. But to address your concerns, the allegory is not so obvious here except for the presence of a flawless hero; I see a moral fable in this horror/thriller mostly because I might be more sensitive to it than most 😅

      Thanks for reading, Maddalena!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. 😄 Though I believe one can enjoy this book without any notion of saints and some such – but maybe being raised Catholic prevents one from enjoying it more? 🤣🤣🤣

      Liked by 1 person

    1. It is on my TBR – Bookstooge sure has some talent for convincing people, I’m very happy he’s not out selling some exotic financial derivatives or pots, I’d probably be tempted 😄
      I think you’d enjoy this one, gentle friends or not, it’s just a really enjoyable book! I’ll sure be looking forward to reading your take on it if you pick it up!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. buriedinprint

    If you don’t read a lot of horror, i can see where you might be inclined to put King and Koontz in the same (mental) pile, but I think they’re quite different. In terms of sales, there are similarities. And both have been prolific. But I think Koontz is more along the lines of Robin Cook or Michael Crichton. There’s a heavier reliance on tropes and a sway towards the predictable when it comes to motivations and characterization (their plots can still be surprising and well engineered).

    It sounds like you’ve had bad luck with King, and I’m not going to try to convince you otherwise, because there are other better-informed King readers who could do a better job, and it’s not exactly your genre (mine either, but I’ve read quite a bit). But I will echo the recommendation you’ve had before, for 11/22/63 (the alternate timeline). The two you’ve read are not as much about characterization as many of his books are and, for me, that makes a huge difference for how I connect to stories. (But, be warned, if you do try the Kennedy retelling, it’s looooong!)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for the helpful explanation, and the recommendation! I will definitely read 11/22/63, I feel I should give King another chance, especially that I’m not that much into horror anyway, so I feel I might have treated his writing skills unfairly when I judged them only by his horrors/thrillers.
      As for Koontz, I’ll defer to the pros and read his Lightning – as it’s his most recommended book besides Odd Thomas. I must confess I haven’t read any Cook or Crichton yet, though I have read Grisham and Child 😉

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  8. Wonderful review as always! I love how you break down the moral grounds on which they’re written and all the subtle ideological elements that it hides throughout the story. The whole Good vs. Evil thing with a perfect hero thing sounds pretty interesting, to be honest.

    I’ve picked up one of Koontz books as a kid, and in French, and never finished it. I always thought the dude’s name was everywhere but never understood why. I am, however, looking to truly explore his books someday and already have Odd Thomas on my shelves too. I look forward to finding out if this story and Koontz’s writing is something for me or not! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Lashaan, as always! 😊

      Yup, this one is interesting, all right! It’s my first Koontz, and I’ll be reading Lightning at some point, but I’m pretty sure not all of his books are equally good 😉

      I’ll be looking forward to reading your review of Odd Thomas soon! 😁

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I too have read one Dean Kootz, though it was so long ago that I can’t remember which one. So, thank you for this comprehensive review and assessment, I don’t feel I need to try it for myself, despite that little bit of bait about the ending.

    I have read a some of Stephen King’s non-horror, though, and found them much better than expected – Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption is a novella. Though if you’ve seen the film it might not work so well.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I’ve been recommended some King’s novels which sound much better than his horrors 😉 As for Koontz, I understand your approach; I’ll read one more of his books, highly recommended by many of my fellow bloggers, but probably nothing more.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s a really solid read 🙂 Quite gripping, actually, and with a nicely tense atmosphere. I know I was recommended it by Bookstooge, who’s read a ton of Koontz’s books and says that this and Lightning are the best! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  10. S.D. McKinley

    Koontz is an interesting author. I recommend “The Taking” by him ( alien invasion fiction – not sure if you are into it ) which I thought the writing style was totally different than any of his other books that I have read which probably totals to like 3 or 4 books.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the recommendation – I’ll take a look at The Taking! I’m not against alien invasion fiction as long as it’s done right, without too many tired tropes 😁
      What else have you read by Koontz?

      Like

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