Sole Survivor by Dean Koontz
The bold Mr Koontz is a regular feature on Rebel Voice. He has been both lauded and slated on this site. His books demand both. He also has a dog fixation. That’s not a typo. It is dog. Thankfully, not every book is degraded by his canine obsession.
However, Deano, as we call him at Rebel Voice, is guilty of another plot crime. It’s one that causes him to base his storylines upon a recurring theme, that of God. No, that’s not a typo either. From dog to God. Dean Koontz may be dyslexic.
In Sole Survivor, Koontz takes on the question of what awaits us on the other side of death. Over the years, he has dabbled in stories that deal with quantum physics and the questions that arise from theories, and it must be stressed that they are theories, that have emerged from this scientific discipline. His investigations seem to have moved him from queries into science, to conclusions involving religion. Although the reader cannot always determine an author’s mind-set from their novels, it would appear that Dean Koontz, during the writing of Sole Survivor, was wrestling with the issue of God or not?
This review contains spoilers.
Joe Carpenter’s life fell apart when his wife and two young children died in a plane crash. The cause was officially stated as pilot error plus a technical malfunction. Joe doesn’t care. The only people he loved have gone and he has lost the will to carry on. He exists in a drunken haze that dulls but never removes the pain. Joe wishes he has the courage to kill himself, but his lack of belief in an afterlife acts as a brake on his actions. His memories are all he has left and they are slowly killing him.
On the one-year anniversary of the tragedy of Flight 353, he visits his family’s grave only to find a stranger taking photos of the plot. When Joe confronts her, she astounds him with her gentleness and sincerity, telling him that she will explain all but he’s not yet ready. She encourages him to believe that his family have not gone for good.
Joe is flabbergasted (good word that, not used enough) and extremely upset. He would be angrier at the stranger if not for her obvious sincerity and kindness. There is also the small matter of the gunmen who show up to kill her. A van screeches up as the woman starts to run. Two men get out and give chase. They shoot to kill but Joe thinks she might have escaped. He approaches the van and encounters a thug who really meets Joe at the wrong time. The grieving father and husband kicks the living shit out of Mr Meany (makes him sounds like a crisp) and then clears out before his gun-toting companions return.
The entire episode has enlivened Joe. He is slowly awakening from a grief-induced slumber as he ponders the woman, the gunmen, and what the hell is going on. Joe is a journalist, retired for one year. He resumes his old career but on a private basis as he begins to pull at the threads that have appeared. It’s not long before he realises that the story he was told about the plane crash was not the truth. There was at least one survivor, and he met her at his family’s graveside.
Thus begins a cat and mouse game as Joe tries to find out who is hunting the woman and why. It’s life and death but he doesn’t care. What’s life to a man who has lost everything? Joe contacts his old network as he digs into who the gunmen were. He also receives the means to get in touch with the hunted woman. It’s all go for Joe.
Anomalies keep turning up in the story of Flight 353. Joe feels that he has no option but to go to the scene of the crash. He meets with an accident investigator there who merely deepens his suspicions that all is not as it seems. It’s there that Joe receives a massive revelation. The woman from the grave site, now identified as Rose Tucker, is not the only person to have survived. A little girl, similar in age and features to his five-year-old daughter, Nina, has also made it. From despair to desperate hope, Joe now has a cause, something and someone to live for. He has to find Nina before the gunmen do.
Lone Survivor is a relatively decent enough book. It moves at a fairly cracking pace through the western portion of the United States. Although the characters are depicted well, and the scenery is vivid – Koontz is excellent at setting the scene – the plot is outrageously far-fetched. The gunmen are part of a shadowy organisation in league with elements of the government. They are conducting experiments on specially bred children (what a terrible description but accurate in this case) in an attempt to foster paranormal abilities. The children are objects, not regarded as human by their captors. They are pushed to breaking in the facilities where they are maintained as tests subjects. Most show little promise, but some do.
One boy-child demonstrates an incredible ability to engage in telekinesis, remote viewing and mind control. He’s so dangerous to the scientists holding him that he is constantly under exceptional supervision. His skills are used for purposes of assassination. But he’s not alone in his extreme abilities.
A little girl also has extraordinary talents not fully realised or understood. Rose is one of those involved in the experiments. Her ruthless ambition leaves her immediately when she meets the nameless girl, and she resolves to help her escape. One of the child’s skills is that of revealing the truth about the afterlife. Once a person learns this they are changed forever. If one of her skills was predicting the lotto results, Rebel Voice would be more impressed and would willingly have assisted in the escape.
It is as Rose spirits the girl away, on Flight 353, that the boy-assassin is utilised to bring the jet-liner down. He succeeds in killing everyone on board but fails to kill either Rose or her young charge. Imagine Joe’s amazement when he eventually learns the full story. It all becomes about ensuring that both Rose and Joe make it to safety and the child, a child named Nina.
Fiction and science-fiction is great. Fantastical story-lines are not a problem for most readers if they are given some level of credibility. Dean Koontz can achieve this. His Odd Thomas tales are an example. Sadly, sometimes he becomes so entrenched in an idea that he pushes it well beyond the point where it’s enjoyable. It can be easy to see his own apparent battle with questions of mortality. Koontz appears to have moved, at least in this book, from a scientific explanation for creation to one of theology. He gives every impression of an author wrestling with what is there when we kick the bucket. It can be disconcerting for a reader, who has become immersed in one of Koontz’ books, to find that it’s really the author’s existential crisis in prose.
In Sole Survivor, which was first published in 1979 (no mobile phones then, whatever did they do?), Koontz creates the first of a series. Sadly, he did not follow up on this and no series exists (misled you there didn’t we, just like Koontz…). The book, however, was adapted into a movie released in 2000 and titled Sole Survivor (who’da thunk that?). The shadowy group previously mentioned, known as Teknologik, relentlessly pursue Joe and Rose determined to recapture the girl before she destroys everything. The girl survivor has adopted the name, Nina, as she met Joe’s daughter on the plane and formed a brief friendship as children do. In contrast, Teknologik are countered by Infiniface, yet another secret organisation but this time on the side of the angels – not literally, we think. The prospective series would then have involved the battle between these two group with Joe and Nina caught in the middle although they are being helped and protected by Infinface. As you may have guessed from this, poor Rose doesn’t make it. Her goose gets royally cooked by those dastardly rogues at Israel… ooops, that should read Teknologik (don’t know how we mixed those two up…).
Is Sole Survivor worth the time it takes to read? On balance, yes. However, it’s not the level of read that Rebel Voice would recommend you seek out. If this book falls into your lap then OK, go ahead and read it as opposed to throwing it violently at the next car that trundles down the street. But don’t squander your money on a novel that has no sequel and is an over-indulgence into the angst apparently experienced by an author with a penchant for such.
Sult scale rating: 5 out of 10. This book is not even close to being one of Koontz’ best efforts. It has interesting concepts with a paranormal touch and good characters. Ultimately, though, the book is more about the existential dilemma Koontz’s himself appears to be facing in terms of what awaits us on the other side and what living on this side means. Read it if handy and free. Otherwise, give it a bye.