Thursday, 24 December 2009

Haikuphobia [Review: False Memory]

Atmosphere of dread.
The monster is in yourself -
watch out for haikus.

Martie Rhodes, the programmer heroine of Dean Koontz’ novel False Memory, starts to experience episodes of fear. Initially this is a vague fear of her own shadow or reflection, but this develops into a more specific fear that she is going to kill someone. Martie’s fears develop as she is helping an agoraphobic friend get to therapy, and drive her obsessively to remove or destroy any potential weapons in her house. Meanwhile her husband Dusty (that would be Dusty Rhodes) is trying to talk his suicidal half-brother down from a roof.

Martie’s initial fears, and her plausible, obsessive response to them, create a tangible atmosphere of dread and mystery, a feeling that something is wrong with the world or that disaster of some sort is about to happen. Having introduced a few more mysteries and clues, the novel then jumps, harshly to the villain’s point of view – and Koontz has created a paranoid, nightmare-inducing vision of a villain with an appetite for abusive and demeaning treatment of those within his haiku-drawn power. His abilities lead to a shift in perception of the world, a small-scale Matrix or Truman Show, as the characters are unable to trust themselves or anyone else. The many references to the Manchurian Candidate are appropriate if crude – Koontz wants to credit Condon as openly as possible as the origin of some of the ideas in the book.

As the novel continues it loses some of this earlier strength. I find that in some of Koontz’ novels, he is a little too fond of his perfect heroes – and so once the abusive nature of the villain is established through cruelty to a supporting character (admittedly in a well-written, disturbing sequence of events), the heroes are spared the most demeaning stuff and have to make do with taking bullets or other more heroic injuries, despite the fact that they have been within the villain’s sphere of power and vulnerable to him for a long time.

There are also plenty of serial killer mistakes, which detracts from what would otherwise be an immensely powerful position - and too many coincidences and quick fixes in the plot although they are portioned out evenly between the good and bad characters. Some opportunities are missed – for example, Martie’s programming skills are barely explored yet there are obvious parallels to be drawn between them and the villain’s abilities, and this could have contributed to their discovery of him or a defence against him.

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