Tin Tin, Lassie and Benji each are considered to be "man's best
friend." With THE DARKEST EVENING OF THE YEAR, Dean Koontz hopes to
add the name of one more dog to the list of smart and heroic
Nickie comes into Amy Redwing's life after a frantic phone call. A
woman with an abusive husband is afraid he will maim or kill the
dog just as he did the family's previous pet. Amy runs a rescue
organization for dogs and is especially concerned about Golden
Retrievers. She takes her boyfriend Brian along to pick up Nickie,
and the moment they meet her, their lives begin to change. Nickie
is beautiful and peaceful, and Amy knows right away that she will
keep Nickie for herself instead of putting the dog up for
That night, mysterious things start happening. Lights turn off and
on in Amy's house, and Nickie reminds her of a night many years ago
that she has struggled to put behind her. Back at his apartment,
Brian spends hours upon hours compulsively drawing pictures of
Nickie; eventually he begins to hear the beat of huge wings flying
around him. As it turns out, Brian, too, has a secret past.
The action is quick, and soon Brian and Amy are on the road,
following the instructions of Vanessa, the woman who has what Brian
wants most: his 10-year-old daughter. As they drive, bringing the
magical Nickie along to meet Vanessa, Amy finally tells Brian about
her troubling past and the tragic winter night nine years ago that
changed the course of her life. Meanwhile, readers are also
following the activity of a group of shadowy psychopaths bent on
death and destruction.
Moongirl and Harrow are the evil counterparts to Amy and Brian.
With a predilection for arson and random murders, they are hoping
to leave soon for the desert but need to take care of some business
first. Readers may soon suspect their deep connections to Amy and
Brian. Also showing up for the evil team (which seems to balance
out all the selfless dog lovers who work with Amy at the Golden
Heart rescue society) are a collection of unprincipled private
investigators and killers for hire who are tracking both Amy and
Brian, collecting evidence of their pasts in order to destroy it
all and finally bring them to the man who wants them dead.
Finally, the characters --- including Piggy, a 10-year-old girl
with Downs Syndrome --- all meet on a foggy night at a California
lighthouse for a (surprisingly brief) battle between good and evil.
In the end, it seems that Nickie may have been an angel (or the
spirit of a murdered little girl) sent to tip the scales to the
side of good and help defeat evil.
Koontz's latest has some interesting ideas but lacks nuance.
Everyone is heavenly or hellish with no realistic gray areas. The
plot, although not lacking for some fun twists and devices, wraps
up rather neatly. Koontz refers to several other writers (one bad
guy takes the aliases Billy Pilgrim and Eliot Rosewater, borrowing
from Vonnegut) and tries to make a point about modern fiction, but
it is lost in the shuffle. And he seems to want to say something
deep about things like hope and despair, companionship and
isolation, cynicism and the heights of the human spirit. In the
end, though, littered with proclamations such as "...the
companionship of dogs inspired a sense of timelessness, of peace,
of the profound grace always waiting to be discovered when the
noise of daily life subsides," this is really a dog's tale. The
miraculous Nickie is the star of the book, which is sort of an ode
to Golden Retrievers in general.
THE DARKEST EVENING OF THE YEAR is far from Koontz's best work, but
as it is a story about redemption, perseverance and (quite
literally) hope, it may be worth a read for his many fans.
Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on January 7, 2011