More often than not, when the name "Dean Koontz" comes up in conversation with people who are on the downside of middle age, they will profess an unfamiliarity with his recent work. They will list DARKFALL, LIGHTNING, PHANTOMS or any one of a dozen or so Koontz titles among their favorite novels, but at some point --- for whatever reason --- they fell off after that. This is more than unfortunate; for Koontz, at a time when his contemporaries choose to retread, remake and remodel past glories, is doing some of the most mature, intriguing and innovative work of his career.
ODD THOMAS is the latest exhibit offered as proof of that proposition. The title is the name of the novel's narrator and protagonist; first name "Odd," last name "Thomas," how do you do. Thomas is a resident of the tiny municipality of Pico Mundo in Southern California. He is simple, as that term is applied to his life, or perhaps the term underachiever would be more appropriate. Or then again, not. Thomas is employed as a short order diner cook and is an expert in such matters. His plans for the future consist of moving on to tire sales, or perhaps selling shoes, when he grows weary of facing the griddle.
But what Thomas does is not what he is. Thomas can see the dead, the spirits who are restless for one reason or another. And he can also see bodachs. Bodachs are creatures --- something more and less than spirits --- that are drawn to the scene of unusual death and disaster. And Thomas, as he prepares the simple orders at the Pico Mundo equivalent of Waffle House, sees bodachs flocking around a particular customer, a stranger who appears to be the focal point of some unnamed, unknown disaster that will strike Pico Mundo within 24 hours. And Thomas, during the intervening period, is going to do everything he can to prevent the disaster, whatever it is.
All that he has to guide him is a troubling, recurring dream and the assistance of his friends, a group of individuals who are as unusual as he is. There are, among others, Stormy Llewellyn, Thomas' soul mate; Little Ozzie, a four hundred pound genius with a 58-year-old cat (pictorial evidence submitted upon request); and Wyatt Porter, Pico Mundo's chief of police. All, in their own way, are peculiar. All are unforgettable. And --- speaking of unforgettable --- the ghost of Elvis, weeping for Thomas, is here as well. You will know why by the conclusion of the novel.
ODD THOMAS has echoes within its pages of past masters. There are memorable, if brief, homages to H.P. Lovecraft, Ray Bradbury, Sherwood Anderson, Theodore Sturgeon, and others herein. Yet it is clearly and uniquely an original, a quietly haunting morality tale that beckons to be embraced and deserves to be studied. Koontz, astoundingly, continues to challenge his readers and himself, and in doing so with ODD THOMAS may well have published the penultimate novel of his career.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 22, 2011