Thursday, October 23, 2008

Co-review: Odd Thomas

Halloween is just around the corner, and in keeping with that spirit of the spine-tinglingly macabre, our co-review for this month is Dean Koontz's Odd Thomas. This is a hair-raising story of ghosts and demons, with the added treat of including characters of such goodness and compassion that make it more than just a dark tale of sordid evil. But before we get into specifics, just remember that in these co-reviews we don't hold back. So if you haven't read it and want to avoid spoilers, read no further!

Odd Thomas is aptly named. He has an unusual ability to see ghosts and therefore acts as an advocate for the dead -- including taking on the dangerous work of trying to bring their murderers to justice. He doesn't enjoy it particularly, but he sees it as his duty. Think Sixth Sense all grown up. Odd also sees shadowy demons that he calls bodachs for lack of a better word, and which seem to indicate a pending disaster. Only a handful of people know of his special gift -- Terri (his boss and mother figure), Chief Porter (the local police chief), Little Ozzie (a morbidly obese fiction writer), and Stormy (his one true love and destiny).

Most of Odd Thomas's plot takes place in about two days. When a stranger comes to town who attracts an unusual amount of attention from the bodachs, Odd takes notice and begins to uncover a plot of mass murder and destruction. Since it's planned to take place the following day, Odd has very little time to try to figure out the details and stop it from happening. Things only get more complicated when his main suspect ends up dead in Odd's own apartment, his police chief friend is shot, and he is forced to face his own personal demons (namely, his psychotic mother) all while trying to figure out how to spare countless innocent lives from an unknown horror. There are many tense, scary moments that keep the pages turning, but also enough humanity and gentle moments to invite the reader's compassion for Odd and the people he loves.

Caren: There are so many things that I loved about this book that it's hard to know where to begin. First, I absolutely loved Odd Thomas! He is so quirky yet completely sincere and guileless. I don't know that I've ever met a character quite like him. He's very intelligent, but has no ambition in life because his sanity is so tenuous he has to keep everything else in his life as simple as possible. His wardrobe consists entirely of jeans and plain white t-shirts. He lives in a simple studio apartment and works as a short-order cook. And other than his hope to marry Stormy and a casual interest in selling tires someday, he is perfectly at peace with his simple life. But this doesn't make him less interesting. Instead, it's one of the many things that makes him so delightful and unexpected.

Jenny: I thought how amazing it was that he grew up with completely screwed up parents, had this supernatural gift that prevented him from living a normal life, and yet, was a compassionate and selfless person. I cannot imagine going through what he had and be the person that he is. Talk about strength of character! Stormy was the perfect match for him because of her personal traumas and also her goodness despite it, which made the ending all the more heart-breaking.

I love that Odd surrounds himself with good people. His landlord, his friends, his co-workers, his family-figures, his girlfriend. If you're going to see dead people who can't talk and tell you what to do, you might as well have a force of good behind you.

I have to say I could have done without all the Satanism in the bad guys. That gave me the serious heebie jeebies. I understand that it solidifies how completely evil they were, but I didn't particularly enjoy reading about it. One thing I did appreciate is that the book wasn't graphic. I mean, you had your share of violence since what Odd encounters is rife with it, but not like what it could have been. Another was how chaste his relationship with Stormy was. It made you love Odd even more, that he respected her and also racked up some points for Koontz in my book. Not everybody has to sleep together to be in love.

Caren: Yeah, the Satanism stuff was way messed up and I found myself wondering how Koontz could stand researching that kind of stuff! I couldn't read the book at night by myself or I'd get too freaked out! (Daylight and noisy kids made for a much less creepy environment.) I don't like horror movies or graphic violence, so this was about my limit. But one thing I liked was that Koontz would build up these tense, scary scenes and then diffuse them before they got to be too much to handle. And I liked that he interspersed them with calmer, more hopeful scenes of the good things in Odd's life.

I loved the chaste aspect of his and Stormy's relationship too, and it broke my heart that she died at the end. I read back through those final chapters and he threw in little clues that it was her ghost at the end, but I didn't pick up on them the first time. What especially kills me is knowing that Koontz has written several more books about Odd Thomas so he's going to have to keep living without her! Which brings up the the beginning of the book he mentions that he would only allow it to be published after he's dead, so does that mean he'll die at the end of Koontz's series? I'm not entirely sure how I feel about that.

Jenny: Oh my gosh, I totally didn't read this book at night too! I did it once and then just laid there in the dark, thinking and being creeped out. Bad, bad book to read by yourself at night.

I didn't pick up on Stormy being dead until they were knocking on the door. I was so relieved that she wasn't hurt in the shooting that my heart was light during the reunion section. When the knocking on the door happened, I felt like I'd been punched in the stomach. I forgot about how in the beginning of the book he mentions that the book is only to be published after his death so now I'm bummed even more. I've debated about whether to read any more of the books, but that might burn my bridge right there. I like Odd too much! I don't think I can stand to watch him suffer any more! No Stormy, saving dead people and bringing about justice while being paralyzed in his own progression and having a probable death at the end of the series is not a big incentive to keep reading.

The scene with his mom made me so sad. He explained over and over again that he was afraid of guns and didn't want anything to do with them, then Koontz shows you why he's afraid of them. But I guess then it just goes to show how brave Odd is when he takes up a gun at the end to save people's lives.

Kudos to Koontz for making such a likable character. Plus, I loved his narration-style, though it's a bit heavy on the metaphors. Here's one of my favorites:

"Hard luck seemed to seep out of the ground itself, as though the devil's room in Hades were directly beneath these streets, his sleeping loft so near the surface that his fetid breath, expelled with every snore percolated through the soil. "

I loved that image. Well, I didn't love the idea of the devil and his stinky breath, but I loved how he created the image. Very cool.

Caren: I am so bad about skipping over things when I'm nervous about a story, and then I have to go back again and reread what I missed. And I was so anxious during so much of this book that I missed some of that imagery, so thanks for pointing that out! I really enjoyed Odd's voice throughout. He had such a matter-of-fact way of talking about the supernatural and an unassuming dry wit. I think if it hadn't been in the first person it would have lost a lot of its appeal for me. For that reason alone I want to read the other books. I hate the thought of Odd Thomas having more to say and me missing out on it!

But because it was given in his voice, I often found myself wondering what an outsider's perspective would have been. So I was just tickled by his exchange with the nurse at the hospital where he was so clueless about the message she was sending. And then at the end, when he's hunting down the last killer and he mentions what a sight he must be to the crowds of people ducking out of his way -- crying and talking to himself incoherently -- I thought, "Hmm, your grip on sanity must be more tenuous than I thought!"

Overall I thought it was a fun read. Scary and disturbing sometimes, but kept light with great additions like Elvis and Little Ozzie. I'll be glad to see Odd's adventures continue into the next books!


  1. This looks like some sort of future movie to me. It sounds delightful in a creepy sort of way. . .
    I loved the two voices in the post, Jenny & Caren ala Siscal and Ebert. Great read ladies.

  2. He's a likable fellow alright. I did enjoy the book and was glad it was fun-scary rather than outright creepy. I got the shivers a couple of times, but nothing that would preclude me from getting up in the night.

    The ending was so bad that I'm not ready to read anymore of the series. Maybe someday, but not for a while.

    bitter bitter bitter....