Dean Koontz

"The Husband"

(Reviewed by Mary Whipple MAY 27, 2007)

"More than flies, worse than spiders, something loomed.  Mitch turned, but seemed to be alone.  An important truth hid from him, hid not in shadows, hid not behind the boxed holidays, but hid from him in plain sight.  He saw but was blind.  He heard but was deaf."

I've had a soft spot for the horror/suspense/mysteries of Dean Koontz ever since I read Strangers (1986) and Watchers (1987).  In those books, Koontz had me absolutely riveted, reading as fast as I could to find out what would happen next to characters I could identify with, as they faced bizarre problems and traumatic challenges.  Inexorably, these average Joes and Janes would be sucked into a vortex of danger from which their escape seemed more and more unlikely.  However implausible these dangers might have been and however high the body count, Koontz made the action seem real and inevitable, and few readers could resist the delicious excitement of imagining "what if…"  As good and evil engaged in a life and death struggle, Koontz's well developed characters faced the ultimate challenge, and against all odds, succeeded.

In this novel, The Husband, Mitchell Rafferty, a landscape contractor, receives a phone call telling him that his wife Holly has been kidnapped, and unless he can come up with two million dollars in a very short time, she will be killed.  To prove that they are serious, the kidnappers direct Mitch to look at the dog walker across the street.  As he watches, the man is shot in the head.  When he returns home, having been told to tell no one about the kidnapping, his kitchen looks as if a bloody struggle has taken place, and he realizes that it has been arranged like a stage set so that he will appear to be Holly's murderer if the police should investigate. 

Mitch and his brother and three sisters have had an unusual upbringing.  His parents, both tenured professors of psychology at UCI, have used them as an experiment, subjecting them to such atrocities as "the learning room," in which Mitch, as an eight-year-old, once spent twenty days of sensory deprivation in dark silence, the only breaks in the monotony taking place with the arrival of his food.  Home-schooled, the children have been brought up to be self-sufficient, dependent on no deity and having no prescribed moral code, their values shaped by the lives they have had with their parents and the personal decisions they have made on their own. 

In adulthood, all of them dislike, if not hate, their parents—the three sisters living as far from them as possible and having no contact, Mitch working in landscaping and having little to do with them, and his brother Anson living in Newport Beach, where he is a multimillionaire.   As Mitch discusses his parents with Anson, Anson comments, "They broke me, Mitch.  I have no shame, no capacity for guilt."  His parents have successfully instilled the idea that "Shame has no social usefulness.  It is a signature of the superstitious mind," and Anson has grown up pragmatic, definitely not "superstitious."

It is not until about one hundred fifty pages have elapsed that Mitch (and the reader) has any idea at all why Holly has been kidnapped.  In the meantime, Mitch has been forced to fight for his life against an intruder in his house, his house and car have been bugged, and his brother Anson has suddenly balked at providing the ransom money.  The reader remains somewhat distanced from the action since s/he has no idea of motive or why these events are happening.  As the premise behind the kidnapping becomes clear, the terrifying implications regarding Holly's future become clear, and Mitch's ability to rescue her seems more and more unlikely.

Moments of excitement, an increasing body count, and several fight-to-the-death episodes keep the action high, but the novel, overall, is not as suspenseful as some of Koontz's earlier work.  Though Mitch, Holly, and Anson are developed enough to make the novel "work," one does not know enough about them to regard them as ordinary people like you and me, a characteristic that makes novels likeStrangers and Watchers so successful.  The plot starts slowly, and the action, when it evolves, feels sketchy, almost like an outline, the increasing complications coming from external forces, rather than from within the characters themselves. 

Koontz does include some vibrant descriptions, often tailoring them to the mood of the characters.  After Mitch and Anson discuss the ransom demand, the sunset is described as "the thinnest wound of the fallen day, [which] bled along the far horizon."  On another occasion, however, when Mitch is driving in a car so blood-soaked he has to put down all the windows to escape the smell, he makes a surprising stop to admire the scenery:  "To the south, in a shallow bowl of land, lay a lake of mercury with concentric rings of sparkling diamonds floating on it, moving slowly to the currents of a lazy whirlpool, as majestic as a spiral galaxy…it was a field of grass, perhaps squirreltail with its plumelike flower spikes and silky awns."  Even for a landscape contractor, that observation strains credibility, under the circumstances. 

As is his custom, Koontz includes moments of humor, which provide a welcome break in the tension.  At one point, Mitch comments that "It doesn't feel real to me."  And Anson responds, "It feels movie."  The kidnapper gives Holly a Mr. Goodbar candy bar, and at one point Holly comments that "being kidnapped fractures your funnybone."  Mitch's professor father collects petrified dinosaur dung.

With a likable, unpretentious main character and a plot with an off-beat (and terrifying) premise, Koontz is certain to have another big seller here.  Those who are looking for a book which is the equivalent in development and suspense as earlier books, such as Strangers and Watchers, should be advised that this book is less fully developed, with a sketchier, more formulaic plot and "thinner" characters. 

  • Amazon readers rating: from 335 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from The Husband at January Magazine



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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)

Moonlight Bay Series:

Odd Series:

The Frankenstein Series

Originally Written as Leigh Nichols

Originally written as Brian Coffey

Originally Written as K.R. Dwyer

Originally written as Owen West:

With Trixie Koontz:

Writing as Deanna Dwyer

  • Demon Child (1971)
  • Legacy of Terror (1971)
  • Children of the Storm (1972)
  • Dance with the Devil (1972)
  • The Dark of Summer (1972)

Writing as Anthony North

  • Strike Deep (1974)

Children's Books:

 

 

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Book Marks:

 

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About the Author:

Dean KoontzDean Koontz was born in 1945 and raised in Pennsylvania. He graduated from Shippensburg State College (now Shippensburg University), and his first job after graduation was with the Appalachian Poverty Program, where he was expected to counsel and tutor underprivileged children on a one-to-one basis. His first day on the job, he discovered that the previous occupier of his position had been beaten up by the very kids he had been trying to help and had landed in the hospital for several weeks. The following year was filled with challenge but also tension, and Koontz was more highly motivated than ever to build a career as a writer. He wrote nights and weekends, which he continued to do after leaving the poverty program and going to work as an English teacher in a suburban school district outside Harrisburg. In 1969, after a year and a half in that position, his wife, Gerda, made him an offer he couldn't refuse: "I'll support you for five years," she said, "and if you can't make it as a writer in that time, you'll never make it." By the end of those five years, Gerda had quit her job to run the business end of her husband's writing career.

His books are published in 38 languages, a figure that currently increases by more than 17 million copies per year. 10 of his hardcover novels and 13 of his paperbacks have risen to #1 position on The New York Times bestseller list. His books have also been major bestsellers in countries as diverse as Japan and Sweden.

Dean and Gerda Koontz live in southern California.

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