Over the years I've enjoyed many a Dean Koontz novel. So when two I hadn't read before showed up at one of my favourite Little Libraries I took them straight home and read them back to back. First, the house of thunder, first published in 1982 and then next day, The Other Emily, published in 2021.
Koontz is a comfort read for me. When I need a little space to distance myself from the anxious-making mundane world around me, Koontz can be relied upon to bring some colour, to have a different take, to make me believe something incredible is happening, somewhere to someone. There's always a twist, an oomph, a believable unexpected happening. Yet in many ways they are easy reads, in hindsight everything makes sense. Koontz clearly reflects the culture of the time in each story. While both stories have spies, the 1982 story, the house of thunder, uses on the US and Russian spies to question how love affects identity, while in The Other Emily Koontz uses spies from the future to explore the question. Comforting too is that even as the characters and story reach satisfactory resolution, there is some wonder, some horror, left in the world Koontz's created for them.
It was enlightening to see how Koontz's writing had evolved across the nearly forty years between the telling of these two stories. Both of these stories were written while Koontz was a mature, successful, full-time author and still Koontz's writing clearly continued to evolve. There was a more organic flow to the feel of how the events of the story flowed in The Other Emily, while the house of thunder had the feeling of a more forced sequence. Discoveries are made because it's time to make them in the house of thunder while in The Other Emily discoveries are made because characters question their choices in the world.
Fascinating too were the resonances between the themes and characters in these novels. Both the house of thunder and The Other Emily explore aspects of memory and identity, both have characters who are revealed to be immersed in deceptive role-play and in both who they will be going forward in the world is left open ended for the reader to place them in happily, or hell, ever after as the reader judges the characters actions in the story to necessitate.
Koontz's mastery lies in trusting the readers to judge the characters. By not dictating the lessons or future of the characters Koontz opens space for the readers to explore how their imagined future for the characters reflects their own values and biases.
Over the years between these stories Koontz's mastery of matching story pacing to theme exposure has become seamless. What would you do for love? Would you kill, or die? Who does that make you and your lover? Introduction of the questions is a bit clunky in the house of thunder, thirty-nine years later, in The Other Emily, the questions and the plot are intricately intertwined with the main character trying several answers to the question of who love has made him and how what he does changes the one he loves.
Whether you choose to go back in time with the house of thunder or sidestep to an alternate today in The Other Emily you can take comfort in knowing Koontz will deliver.