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Dean Koontz has been at his trade for decades, writing genre-bending novels since the 1970s and amassing a reputation as an author of science fiction and horror novels, and of works that skirt both fields or seem firmly planted in neither. His more recent work has defied characterization, being by turns unpredictable and eccentric. Yet some, though by no means all, of it is also arguably his best. One who has read Koontz's last few novels can feel him stretching and testing his self-imposed boundaries, creating weird and realistic characters who seem just like his readers.

VELOCITY, Koontz's latest work, is front-and-center Exhibit A for that proposition. The focus of the novel is Billy Wiles, a fairly non-descript fellow who is about to have his life turned upside down. When we first meet Wiles he is tending bar in a nondescript, no-name establishment located in Vineyard Hills, a quiet Napa Valley community. Wiles is a quietly multi-dimensional character with a life that has been punctuated by tragedy --- orphaned by a mind-numbing occurrence at 14, his fiancée rendered comatose for four years by an accidental poisoning --- and outside of his barkeeping duties and his bedside vigil with his fiancée, his life is lived in solitude, though not in seclusion (and yes, as Koontz so subtly demonstrates, there is a distinction).

The predictability of Wiles's life is abruptly shattered when he finds an anonymous note on the windshield of his SUV. The note is terrifying in its symmetry, giving Wiles a Hobson's choice that will result in the death of an innocent. This is the first of many notes, and only the beginning, as Wiles is taunted and pursued by an unknown assailant who possesses not only an uncanny knowledge of his whereabouts at any given moment but also detailed insight into his past. Wiles, however, is not without resources and a frighteningly canny intelligence of his own. The tragic turns of his life have wounded him but have made him stronger as well --- a fact that Wiles's tormentor comes to realize when Wiles stops reacting and begins to act proactively.

VELOCITY is Koontz's most mysterious and frightening work, one that takes a flawed but sympathetic character and causes him to rise to the occasion of fighting fire with fire. There also is some stark religious imagery here, very subtly presented but worth thoughtful reflection once you've completed the book. The ending brought tears to my eyes. But don't tell anyone. What you should tell everyone is that VELOCITY is the Koontz book that cannot be missed.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 24, 2011

by Dean Koontz

  • Publication Date: May 24, 2005
  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam
  • ISBN-10: 0553804154
  • ISBN-13: 9780553804157