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Velocity by Dean Koontz
Yes, I know I'm mild-mannered and lovely and yes, Dean Koontz does write thrillers of a gory persuasion, but this one, like the rest of his numerous novels, is utterly brilliant. So brilliant and so thrilling, in fact, that 'Velocity' could well refer to the speed at which this novel is read.
Velocity deals with the terrible choices that Billy, our hero, is forced to make. If he acts in one way then a harmless old lady will be murdered. If he chooses another action then a young schoolteacher will be murdered instead. So which choice is better? 'Inaction is not an option', and for poor Billy the choices get tougher and the time to decide gets shorter. Finally, Billy's own personal safety, not to mention his sanity, is put in jeopardy.
As mentioned before, Velocity has its fair share of gore. It isn't the sort of book you'd give to small children and you probably wouldn't be eager to read snippets out at the dinner table either. But I’m quite at ease with nibbling on a snack while reading about people being tortured. This bothers me. I'm a good person, I abide by the law, but the horrific events of the news recently have conditioned me into being less easily shocked by violence. Both the London terrorist attacks and Hurricane Katrina produced images that were terrible to watch. Yet we watched them with plates of food on our laps. Why? Why is it acceptable to see atrocities, and then to enjoy reading about imaginary ones, just because nine times out of the proverbial 10 the baddy gets his comeuppance?
Perhaps it is because of the way Dean Koontz writes. His books are elevated above the usual mass-produced gore by an almost holy sense of beauty in his writing. There are gorgeous literary references from the likes of TS Eliot scattered throughout Velocity. These help to make the text bearable and help the reader to understand that Koontz is not on the side of the bad guys. Added to this is the poignancy factor. It is almost a cliché of Koontz's that one of the characters will be disabled in some way. In this case, Billy has a fiancée, Barbara, who is comatose. Of course, her safety is called into question, but this doesn't impair the quality of the story; rather, it adds a humane facet.
Comparisons are often drawn between Koontz and another famous writer, Stephen King. I love King's work, my only criticism being his over-reliance on the supernatural. Koontz doesn't do this, and by evading the supernatural his work is made all the more chilling. The events in Velocity are not based on a true story. But they could be.
Finally, writing is a craft. Velocity is an excellent example. So, don't assume you know what is coming: trust me, there's a twist!