The Crooked Staircase by Dean Koontz
This is the third instalment in the Jane Hawk saga. It picks up from The Whispering Room, as the rogue FBI agent continues her lonely battle against the secret group known as the Techno Arcadians.
Jane has succeeded so far in her lone crusade against the dark forces of the cabal. Her 5-year-old son, Travis, is safe with Jessie and Gavin but Jane knows that the Arcadians have massive resources and only their complete destruction can ensure Travis’ safety.
As for the villainous Arcadians? They comprise members that are ensconced in every influential position in US society. There are cops, politicians, billionaires, captains of industry and a multitude of government employees (sounds like hardline Capitalism), all now searching for the beautiful and fiery Mrs Hawk. The reason? Jane knows their shocking secret and will stop at nothing to expose those who murdered her husband.
The secret that the Arcadians wish to keep is that they have managed to create nano-bots that, when injected into a target’s bloodstream, link to form a network in the brain giving the Arcadians total control over that person. It’s an effective form of brainwashing – a theme that Koontz returns to a lot – that allows the victim to function normally until such times as the cabal needs them for their nefarious purposes. This could be taken as a metaphor for the conditioned troops of the military, with media-driven specious patriotism used as a means of control.
The Arcadians wish to use their technology to create a New World Order, forcing submission upon the populace. Although they have infected approximately 16,000 so far, their program is escalating. Jane is really against the wall in this one, but thankfully has expert training and many contacts, both friends and within the criminal fraternity, who help her stay barely one step ahead of her pursuers.
The Crooked Staircase is based upon an interesting premise. The concept of population control via brain-washing is one which Koontz has tackled previously on more than one occasion. In his novel, Night Chills, which review can be found here:
the manipulation of the mind was effected via drugs and subliminal messaging. But technology has progressed since, and so it is that nano-technology is the in-thing. As such machines are actually being researched today, the author has once again cleverly expanded upon existing developments. His futuristic ruminations may not be too far off the mark, although total mind control using nano-bots may not be necessary as people are already being coerced and used, as you read this, via the media, advertising and entertainment industries.
Koontz has a great ability to set the scene. His characters, while not entirely credible, are sufficient to hold interest. This is not Koontz’ best work, far from it. However, it is still entertaining even though there are many flaws throughout. For example, Jane conveniently always seems to know the kind of person she most desperately needs in any crisis. The Feds always seem to get away with their illegal activities. It’s almost as if the entire population of the US is deemed too slow to understand what is taking place in front of them. Rebel Voice feels Koontz is underestimating the US public, although the masses are remarkably pliable when the right motivation is presented. How else to explain the imbalance that exists across the globe today?
Jane Hawk has all the evidence necessary to expose the Arcadians yet holds off as she feels that she can’t trust the media in case the group have operatives there. Has Jane ever heard of the global media? Koontz appears to forget that the industry extends outside of the US. Perhaps he should get out of the country more often. This isolationist viewpoint is symptomatic of the current policies of Trump who would see the US stand alone on the world stage. Such political arrogance is sure to lead to further hardships for the US citizenry. Has Koontz fallen innocently into the trap of conditioning that he writes so well in condemnation of? Oh, the irony.
Some of the fight scenes are not feasible in this novel, and we also get a touch of that ever-present spectre of many US novels, the moral dilemma. Even with Jane’s husband being murdered, and her young son’s life being threatened by the Arcadians, Jane still manages to have guilt pangs about causing pain and suffering to a senior Arcadian that she knows would torture her son to death given half a chance. Her psychological reasoning does not add up.
One other obvious flaw that merits mention is the portray of the emotional and mental capabilities of Jane’s 5-year-old son. Rebel Voice is a tremendous admirer of the resilience and psychological strength of children. In a callous world where the young are abused and murdered hourly, our children are a beacon of hope and, in terms of striving to survive, they lead by example and shame us all. We have much to learn from them. However, the capabilities attributed to Travis are greatly exaggerated to the point of foolishness. Rebel Voice checked and discovered that Koontz and his wife, Gerda, decided against having children of their own, apparently due to Koontz’ horrific childhood. His father was said to have beaten and abused him and tried to kill him twice. Such information casts Dean Koontz and his writing in a whole new light and may impact upon future book reviews in that Rebel Voice may not be just as harsh with any criticism, or perhaps that is patronizing to an author who has sold approximately 450 million books (like he cares what the critics say). In 2008 he was said to have pulled in $25 million, so it’s hard to feel overly sorry for him.
One final and major flaw in The Crooked Staircase is the subplot of brother and sister authors, Sanjay and Tanuja. These two appear from the start and we follow their story as the Arcadians try to capture them for some nano-bot adjustment. Their crime is simply to have run foul of the algorithm that the cabal use to predict who will be a problem in the future for the group’s plans for global domination. The chase after them is engaging but the ending is terrible. Rebel Voice waited for the merger between Jane’s story and theirs but it didn’t come. The entire story-line of the Indian-American writers was unnecessary and added nothing to the overall plot. Perhaps this was a problem in editing or maybe Koontz just got bored with it and ran out of ideas. Whatever the reason, it became a dead-end and could have been so much more.
The Crooked Staircase is entertaining in a slapdash kinda way. Substitute James Bond for Jane Hawk and Spectre for the Arcadians and you can see where it’s headed. Decent characters, fast pace and engaging plot, this novel is worth the time. Sadly, the Techno Arcadians are not a fictional construct. They exist today and are known as the Surplass. They already have taken control and we, the people of the world, still await our own Jane Hawk.
Sult scale rating: 7 out of 10. This book is best enjoyed if read in order of publication with the other two in the series. Addictive enough to hold the reader’s attention and should make you look forward to the next instalment.
(please note that this novel has teaser chapters for the next Jane Hawk book which may confuse you when you eventually get to read it. You may feel that you’ve read it before, at least until you get past those chapters that you have already covered)