Lightening by Dean Koontz
Koontzy has been around a while now. He’s a prolific writer. But for every couple of decent novels he pens, he usually presents at least one turkey. In Lightening, he has refrained from all-out dog-worship – which came as a great relief to Rebel Voice – yet while the writing is strong, the plot is not, and feathers have been flying throughout the reading of this. Gobble, gobble.
Janet Shane is due to give birth to her first child. Her doctor, Markwell, is a drunk and solidly inebriated on the wintry night that Jane goes into labour. As Dr Markwell prepares to leave for the hospital, a stranger arrives at his house and forces him to remain there.
The stranger ensures that a substitute doctor is available to take Markwell’s place at the baby’s delivery. Janet Shane dies in childbirth but her daughter, Laura, is born healthy and survives. The stranger disappears – there is no sunset – leaving Markwell with a severe reprimand and a half empty bottle of whiskey.
Laura and her father, Bob, are close. It’s just the two of them against the world. When Laura is eight, her father’s humble grocery store is targeted by a vicious, paedophilic robber (he doesn’t rob paedophiles, he is a paedophile and a robber). The pervert takes the cash and is then intent on raping Laura. However, in steps the same stranger from the time of her birth. He kills the sicko and Laura is yet again saved by someone who she comes to regard as her Guardian Angel.
When Laura’s father dies from natural causes, his orphaned 12 year old daughter finds herself in a state institution where she becomes good friends with the twins, Ruth and Thelma Ackerson. Unfortunately, Laura becomes the focus of the Eel, a paedophile employee of the facility. When Laura finds the perfect foster family and escapes the children’s home, the Eel follows her. Despite a horrific assault on her, Laura manages to kill the monster – chalk one up for the good guys – but sadly her foster-mum dies in the incident. Laura is back to the institute where her friendship with the twins deepens. The segment surrounding Laura’s years in the care system make for tough reading at times.
Fast-forward a number of years and we find Laura married with one son, Chris. At this stage in her life, Laura is a highly successful and very wealthy novelist (one in a million). As Laura, her husband Danny, and Chris, leave their mountain redoubt, they are flagged down on a dangerous road by Laura’s guardian who weirdly appears to have never aged. He warns them of impending danger and takes the family off the road to safety, where they witness a truck smash into their abandoned vehicle. Laura’s guardian has saved her again.
However, on this occasion, another individual also arrives, but with bad intent. As the second stranger launches a gun attack on the group of four, he succeeds in killing Danny. The gunman dies at the hands of Laura’s guardian who leaves her with an enigmatic warning about the danger she will face in the future. Laura and her 8 year old son prepare for the worst.
Lightening is a story about time-travel. This premise is always chock-full of traps, pitfalls and mines. Lightening is an excellent example of why this concept should be avoided by all but the most capable authors. This particular attempt does not make for a good novel.
The characters are strong and consistent. The settings are decent. The pace is good. The problem lies in the overall plot. It is simply too confusing and full of contradictions. The guardian angel is in fact Stefan Krieger, an SS officer from Nazi Germany involved in a time travel project designed to help Hitler win the war. The catch in this story is that the time-travellers can only move forward in time, returning to their point of origin. The possibilities for the Germans are limitless, in that they can read history books and thus discover the Allies’ plans. But that, in itself is a contradiction. Koontz manages to ignore the obvious ramifications of this time-travelling business which leads to much confusion.
Stefan first sees Laura during one of his time-leaps and falls in love. Laura is still a successful author, but is confined to a wheelchair due to the drunken negligence of her doctor, Markwell. It is then that Stefan decides to intervene in her life, managing to weave a new one for her as he repeatedly interrupts the time-lines of her existence.
But Stefan is in danger. He is sickened by the Nazis and wants Hitler’s loss of the war to take place, as it would if the Nazis had never invented a time-machine. Confused? You should be. That’s the problem with this plot. It’s bullshit. The story mechanisms are all over the fucking place. It’s a disappointment when a reader becomes involved in the first few chapters only to find that they have stepped into a slurry pit and find themselves sinking in a sludge of nonsense.
Stefan meets both Hitler and Churchill. He fights the Gestapo and the SS. All very admirable but unnecessary. He could have built a bomb in the future, put a timer on it, and sent it back to Nazi Germany to blow the unholy shit out of the scientists who run the time-machine. But no, Stefan has to faff about through the decades with a raging hard-on for the beautiful Laura.
It all culminates in a showdown between the SS on one side, and Stefan, Laura and Chris on the other. People die and then are not dead as timelines are changed. All sorts of inexplicable sequences take place. It becomes increasingly disorientating and ragged. Gobble, gobble, gobble.
Dean Koontz is a fine writer. But some of his plots are highly questionable. This is certainly one. Good writing can be ruined by a dodgy premise, and time-travel is certainly one way to seriously fuck up a novel. Perhaps Koontz should have stuck to the topic of dogs. There are no dogs in Lightening. It may be that the dire lack of canines is what caused Deano such problems with his concentration. Throw a beagle into the story-line and Koontz is laughing. Remove the dog and you get a tale that will not be understood by a Haight hippy in the full grip of some very strong acid.
Rebel Voice likes to see the Nazis get their asses kicked as much as the next blog. But, in Lightening, it’s easy to feel sorry for Hitler as we come to understand that because he loses the war we, the reading public, are going to be burdened with this shoddy novel. If ole Adolf, the crazy Austrian bastard, had won the war, then in all likelihood Dean Koontz wouldn’t have been allowed to write such a book. Hitler winning the war… or Dean Koontz writing Lightening? Hmm… that’s a tough one. That needs some serious thought.
Fuck you Marty McFly and your DeLorean. It’s your fault. Back to the Future was released in 1985 and Lightening was first published in 1988. Coincidence? If Rebel Voice had a time-machine, it would be used to go back to 1988 to stop the publication of this novel. We could also do something about Koontz’ dog fixation. Of course, we would first have a look about freeing both Ireland and Palestine, and cutting Donald Trump’s da’s balls off before the orange one’s conception. Now what a world that would be.
Sult scale rating: 5 out of 10. Well written but poorly conceived. You might enjoy it if you set aside all reason and can ignore holes in the plot big enough to lose Canada in. Time travel is a bollox of a premise, especially as everyone knows that time is linear and so to go back in time you must go forward until you arrive where you started but from the other direction, which is impossible for humans and everything else as the time involved in inestimable. Now that little philosophical nugget should get you thinking (thank me later).