A review that originally appeared in The Third Alternative #40:-
THE TAKING by DEAN KOONTZ
Harper Collins hb, 338pp, £17.99 http://www.harpercollins.co.uk
One night it starts to rain all over the world. Hard. And the rain smells of semen. Something unnatural and very bad is going down. While some await the long expected End of Days with a prayer in their hearts, others fear an alien invasion and prepare to do what they can by way of resistance. Molly and Neil Sloan travel down to the town of Black Lake, but instead of joining its defenders they undertake a mission of their own. With society, if not reality itself, completely broken down they witness terrors and wonders; alien fungi, dead men walking, strange new life forms and giant ships that pass by in the air overhead. All of these are an irrelevance though; their job, guided by preternaturally aware dogs, is to save as many of the town’s abandoned children as they can from the few human monsters taking advantage of the anarchy, among them Molly’s own father, a murderous psychopath escaped from prison in the general chaos. They have been given a purpose, even though they can only conjecture as to what it is and try to find a reason for all that happens.
A couple of years ago I watched Phantoms, a film based on a Koontz book in which a small town is cut off from the rest of the world and becomes a place where natural laws are suspended so that absolutely anything can take place. This is pretty much the same thing, only done on a global scale and with a different pretext.
Koontz’s prose is annoyingly facile at times, with a line in metaphor that hints at a thwarted career with Hallmark Cards and an occasionally intrusive, not to say slightly condescending, authorial voice. Some of the characters are annoying too, such as Molly, whose brand of compassion and understanding, except in the case of those she judges unworthy, I found too close to preachy and self-righteous for comfort. The narrative borders on sentimentality much of the time and, having tantalised us with the lure of a Science Fictional explanation for what is going down, takes a leaf out of the M Night Shyamalan book of sloppy philosophising to hedge its bets with a consolation prize for the Bible belt. Of course, as with Phantoms, the rationale behind it all is something of a side issue, the plot simply acting as an excuse for Koontz to throw as much horror stuff at the page as he can, like the literary equivalent of sampling (here’s a snatch of Cthulhu weirdness and there’s a snippet of Poe to flavour, but pass the Hodgson on the right hand side). On the most basic level it’s a fast paced narrative by an author who seems to have missed out on the idea of long paragraphs, opting instead for a more cinematic mode of storytelling, with bizarre imagery and weird shit happening on almost every single page. And yet, to provide my own surprise ending, despite all the flaws I enjoyed it rather more than not, and if you’re looking for a light, undemanding read to pass a few hours on a rainy day then you could do far worse than this. Of course, if the rain smells a bit funny and doesn’t stop…