One Door Away From Heaven by Dean Koontz
This novel is the first in a series featuring Leilani Maddoc, Micky Bellsong and their very own Scooby Doo gang. It should have been called, Ode To A Dog, as ole Deano really demonstrates his excessive affection for our canine friends in this tail (see what I did there? Honestly, I should be in Hollywood with this shit).
Please don’t misunderstand Rebel Voice‘s position. Dogs trump cats in our world. Cats can’t be trusted. Most dogs can. Cats rub up against you without being invited, and watch you in a suspicious manner. Dogs are usually just gypes. Yet, having read this book, a reader could be forgiven for harbouring suspicions that Koontz has a shrine at home where a statue of a Golden Retriever has taken the place of Buddha, and ceramic dog biscuits and wet dog incense litter the altar.
Micky Bellsong is 28 and has just been released from prison to develop an alcohol problem. Why do so many lead characters in US novels have issues with substance abuse? Is it a prerequisite? The beautiful and sassy Micky is at a crossroads in her young life. She has moved in with her Aunt Gen, a scatty old lady with a heart of gold and her own sassy attitude. In fact, everyone in this novel has a sassy attitude, even the dog. It gets tiresome after a while. It makes you want to shout at them to stop the quips and get the fuck on with the story.
Micky and Gen befriend their 9 years old neighbour, Leilani Maddoc, a sassy (see, I told you) disabled girl with a beautiful face but a deformed hand and leg. Leilani reveals that her step-father, Preston Maddoc, is a killer who has murdered her young brother, Luki. She is also convinced that Preston, who she calls Dr Doom, will kill her before her tenth birthday. Leilani’s mother is a drug-addled head-the-ball who mentally and tortures her only remaining child. Leilani is resigned to her horrific life, and fate, as she feels that no one will believe her if she tells what she knows about Preston. Pressie is a well-respected academic you see and we always believe them I suppose, don’t we?
In a separate strand we meet a young boy fleeing hunters who have murdered his entire family. Upon entering a remote farmstead one night (it wasn’t stormy but was most likely dark) the boy takes clothes belonging to a child of his own size and age (10). He then assumes the sleeping boy’s identity and so it is that Curtis Hammond enters the fray.
As he flees the farm, the hunters enter and slaughter the residents. Only the family dog survives as she chases after the new Curtis, where they engage in one hair-raising adventure after another, all the while trying to keep ahead of both the hunters and the FBI. It makes for a fast-paced thriller.
The third strand of One Door Away From Heaven concerns Noah Farrel, a former cop turned private investigator, who lives and works solely to pay for the medical care needed by his severely disabled sister, herself a victim of a terrible assault when she was a child. Noah’s sister is eventually murdered by a so-called ‘Angel of Mercy’, one of a sub-culture who take it upon themselves to kill those who have little or no quality of life. Noah has no longer any reason to go on. Conveniently, Noah and Micky are of a similar age. Hmm… cue future pussy-footing and some sweaty romancing.
When Leilani is spirited away in the night by her wacko family, Micky sets of in pursuit. She employs the services of Farrel to research and build a case against Preston Maddoc. Two strands have intertwined but not yet in the biblical sense. The chase is on.
Meanwhile, Curtis Hammond has met and been taken in by the glamorous and feisty (and sassy) showgirl twins, Cassie and Polly. These two have appeared in every straight male wet dream… ever. They are both UFO hunters, as well as expert marks-women, martial artists and car mechanics. Imagine their delight then they discover that their young charge, Curtis, is an alien. That’s right, a freakin’ alien. Not only is he from a galaxy far, far away, he is also part of a galactic war with battles currently being fought right here on Earth. The dog is just a dog, however, and may not be sexually safe from Dean Koontz. Jack Reacher needs to speak with him about his unhealthy canine fixation.
The strands twist and weave and merge towards the book’s end. The plot-line is sturdy and the premise is of much interest. There is a central commentary upon the vile practice of bio-ethics. This philosophy, bordering upon eugenics, allows that some academics may believe that those who are physically or emotionally unwell should be euthanized, regardless of how the afflicted feel about their imminent demise. The idea being promoted is that only those who can contribute successfully to society should have a right to life. It’s a callous approach to living and sadly one which has many advocates. Hitler and his ilk would no doubt approve. As Koontz points out in his afterword, bio-ethics is very real and is debated in Ivy League universities.
The characters in One Door Away From Heaven are intriguing if a tad one-dimensional. The settings are great. Koontz is a gifted story-teller. But in Rebel Voice‘s experience, having read many of his novels over the years, he has two weaknesses. The first is a fascination with quantum physics and the second is his obsession with dogs. Koontz may be dyslexic as it appears that for him Dog = God.
‘Every world has dogs… creatures that are of a high order of intelligence… The combination of their innocence and their intelligence allows them to serve as a bridge between what is transient and what is eternal, between the finite and the infinite.’
Did you ever read such high-falutin’ cac in your day? These are dogs he’s talking about. Koontz lauds them as next to god, or the ‘Presence’ as he terms it. I shit you not, he really goes over the top in this novel in his descriptions of the purity and angelic nature of dogs. I wonder if he has ever watched two dogs who appear to have gotten their asses stuck together after sex? Or perhaps he has missed when they shit wherever they please? Or how about when some of them attack children disfiguring and sometimes killing them? Dogs are great when raised correctly, and they make fantastic companions. But let’s not get carried away here. They’re still just dogs. Feel the Presence through the dogs? My arse, Koontz, my sweaty Irish arse.
The dog is the lynch-pin of this story. The alien boy gets a mention too but he’s not in contact with the Presence so the dog is better than him. The alien boy has three gifts to bestow upon mankind – and presumably upon womankind also – and one of them is the ability to see the world through the eyes of dogs. Not invisibility or supernatural healing abilities, or lightening quick speed, or a perpetual motion machine, or world peace, but the ability to know what it feels like to be able to lick your own balls. For fuck’s sake.
Although Koontz spends a lot of time dog preaching and people preaching throughout this story, the general plot is decent. There are some obvious flaws overlooked by the author, such as why didn’t Micky or Gen or Leilani simply report Preton Maddoc as a child-abuser? That would have ensured an investigation at the least. Yet such oversights could have been more easily ignored if not for Koontz’ fixations. He ruined what should have been a very good read.
The climax is decent if questionable, and the groundwork has now been laid for further installments. Readers can only hope that the author manages to wean himself off his dog worship to better present his engrossing stories.
Sult scale rating: 6 out of 10. Disappointing given the strong potential.