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77 Shadow Street by Dean Koontz

Try not to be just a little freaked out the first time you step onto an elevator after reading this book’s opening chapter. The story unfolds around a group of characters residing in an old hotel that suddenly spawns monsters in the shadows. In the first chapter, we follow a boozed-up senator who seems to be mad at the world as he enters the Pendleton, the freakish hotel where this story takes place. Once in the elevator, the senator is stunned when he spots the elevator buttons indicating floors far below the number the Pendleton typically boasts. The elevator stops well below the basement. That’s where we realize the kind of journey on which Dean Koontz is about to take us. The fast-paced opening establishes a bleak tone, which for the most part, remains intact throughout the remainder of the book. Go ahead and try to stop reading after you finish the first chapter; I couldn’t stop.

The characters populating these pages are as engaging as they are different; this is a very good thing when you’re sitting down to read through 400+ pages with heavier narration than dialogue. Koontz, departing from his recent norm, opts for an ensemble cast with no clear-cut lead protagonist, though some characters evoke more sympathy…or anger. Koontz manages to illustrate how all of us go through trying times, pointing out the best thing to do is typically the “hard thing” to do. While the characters can be difficult to follow at first, the reader should quickly get used to the flow of the story. Characters’ names are placed above each segment in an alternating-viewpoint style. I was pleasantly surprised to meet villains that finally had some depth to them, as Koontz has often dealt only with black-and-white characters in the recent past. While the protagonists still have virtually no flaws, the “bad guys” finally have some depth, so I give Koontz kudos for that.

The pacing only hits a snag around the halfway point of the story. This is when you get the sense of the final showdown toward which the characters are heading. When you realize the primary purposes of the front half of the book, it feels (to me) like Koontz could have gotten through parts of this story a bit quicker. The remainder would be more interesting if Koontz took full advantage of high-tension opportunities, but I never fully buy into the idea the characters will fail (although whether they succeed or fail is left somewhat open in the end). On the other hand, the denouement is far superior to almost any Dean Koontz novel I’ve read. Koontz details what comes next for the survivors and villains. In the end, while the main plot problem’s solution ends on an ambiguous note, there are great personal gains and revelations revealed to those who survive the nightmare.

Judging the originality of this piece is tricky. Compared to many other adult books in today’s market, Dean Koontz’s 77 Shadow Street unveils a plot you aren’t likely to see in another suspense novel or adult literary title. To mention where you would likely find such stories would spoil the twist, so I will omit such information. Compared to other Koontz plots, this is not, however, entirely original. While Koontz has addressed how carelessness and idleness can lead to evil in his other books, this book still manages to stand out just enough to keep you from feeling like you’ve read it before.

This is an ideal book for the winter months. Imagine settling down to read this late at night, during a snowstorm, with just the faintest glow reaching the window from the sodium-vapor streetlights. While this book still doesn’t manage to capture the kind of suspense found in Koontz’s Sole Survivor or The Taking, it is well worth a read. I recommend this to Dean Koontz fans and anyone looking for a story about a group of diverse people coming together to save the world. If you like the idea of Stephen King’s apocalyptic books, but could use a lot less gore in your reading, this may be for you.

-Travis

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