Book Review: 77 Shadow Street by Dean Koontz

11166890Title: 77 Shadow Street

Author: Dean Koontz

Genre: Thriller, Horror, Supernatural Horror

Age Group: Adult (18+)

Rating: 3 stars

Purchase: Amazon (Paperback), Amazon (Hardcover)

I am the One, the all and the only. I live in the Pendleton as surely as I live everywhere. I am the Pendleton’s history and its destiny. The building is my place of conception, my monument, my killing ground. . . .

The Pendleton stands on the summit of Shadow Hill at the highest point of an old heartland city, a Gilded Age palace built in the late 1800s as a tycoon’s dream home. Almost from the beginning, its grandeur has been scarred by episodes of madness, suicide, mass murder, and whispers of things far worse. But since its rechristening in the 1970s as a luxury apartment building, the Pendleton has been at peace. For its fortunate residents—among them a successful songwriter and her young son, a disgraced ex-senator, a widowed attorney, and a driven money manager—the Pendleton’s magnificent quarters are a sanctuary, its dark past all but forgotten.

But now inexplicable shadows caper across walls, security cameras relay impossible images, phantom voices mutter in strange tongues, not-quite-human figures lurk in the basement, elevators plunge into unknown depths. With each passing hour, a terrifying certainty grows: Whatever drove the Pendleton’s past occupants to their unspeakable fates is at work again. Soon, all those within its boundaries will be engulfed by a dark tide from which few have escaped.

Dean Koontz transcends all expectations as he takes readers on a gripping journey to a place where nightmare visions become real—and where a group of singular individuals hold the key to humanity’s destiny. Welcome to 77 Shadow Street

 Everybody seems to love Dean Koontz, and I was feeling a little left out, so when I saw this book for a cheap price in my local book store, I knew I had to read it. So I got myself a copy, and got started. 77 Shadow Street started out interestingly enough. The author starts by introducing us to a cast of characters living in the Pendleton, a strange and old apartment building standing on the summit of Shadow Hill. It was once the home of a late 1800s tycoon, but has since been renovated to host several apartments. There’s an ex-senator who’s fallen from grace ages ago, a songwriter and her young son who has some odd tendencies and the desire to be a hero, an attorney who has the feeling something more is going on in the building, a man who sees conspiracy theories everywhere, a hitman, and much more, residing within the building. But most noteworthy of all is an ancient evil crawling up the walls of The Pendleton, festering deep inside its basement, waiting for the perfect opportunity to set in motion a horrific event of cosmic proportions. Because the Pendleton is the only building left standing in a desolate earth in the future, and when the time comes, it will be devoured by monsters…

All right, so this book is anything but subtle. It starts out great, with the introduction to the many divers characters, a view in the daily life of these people, and what seems like the basis of a haunted house story. But after about a hundred pages, the subtleness has vanished and been replaced by straight-on monster horror with strange creatures invading the Pendleton. It’s like a haunted house story without the ghosts but on steroids. The story is completely out of the box, like Mr. Koontz wanted to take the ancient ‘haunted house’ trope and turn it upside down, mix in a bit of science-fiction and time travel and some kind of alien species. And that’s all great. I mean, the ideas are good. The execution however leaves much to be desired. You can compare this book to Joss Whedon’s latest movie, “Cabin in the Woods”, except that where Dean Koontz failed, “Cabin in the Woods” succeeded (if you ask me). But books that mix up well-known tropes to this degree, as well as movies trying to do the same thing, will no doubt be subject to lots of criticism.

And I have my fair share of criticism for 77 Shadow Street. Let’s start with the monsters, the so-called “Pogroms”. While the idea behind them is quite genius, and they certainly rank high on the originality scale, the descriptions for these monsters are over-the-top almost to the degree that they lose all their credibility. Secondly, Mr. Koontz is apparently addicted to describing every single thing he comes across. The Pendleton and its interior are described in such detail it leaves little to the imagination, and it drags this book on for a good hundred pages more than it should’ve lasted. The endless rows of descriptions slow down the action up to the point that I had to take frequent breaks in order to continue reading. While I enjoyed the story for the most part, the sheer amount of details included made it hard for me to get through this book.

Then there’s also the way Koontz describes children. He has two kids characters playing important rules in this book – Winnie and Iris. Iris is authistic, and Winnie dreams to be a hero. All good and well, but the trouble starts as soon as mayhem happens in the Pendleton. Neither one of the kids act like real children would’ve acted. Iris is one cliché piled on another, and the way her authism is played out in nearly every scene borders on offensive. Winnie has more courage than a seasoned war veteran, and more wit and intelligence than the rest of the main cast – which makes absolutely zero sense. He’s a kid. If anyone out to be afraid of hideous spider-monster crawling on the floor, it should be him. Lots of authors make the mistake of turning kids into main characters when they play alongside adults, but it just doesn’t work. It’s unlikely that, when you have a group of adults and children, the children would take on the role of leader and become the hero. They may do small acts of heroism, but an adult will always take charge. This works in middle grade books, or even young adult novels, because most of the cast are children and the books are aimed at children, but this fails completely in adult books.

None of the adults, including the attorney or the war veteran or even the hitman, seem to be able to take charge when need arises. Sure, I get that almost-unkillable intergalactic monsters are different to fight than regular soldiers, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t at least give it a shot. On top of that, the main characters were one cliché dumped onto another.

All in all, a mediocre read, which is a bit disappointing since this is my first Koontz book, and now I suspect all his books will be this level. Ugh. Either way, the plot itself was decent. I’m not much of a fan of dystopian sci-fi, and I was hoping for a ghost story, but it was an original, somewhat pleasant surprise. The characters were boring clichés, the children were absolutely unbelievable, and the descriptions were long and too detailed, slowing down the pace significantly. Give this a try if you’re a fan of sci-fi horror, but if you’re looking for a haunted house story that stays more true to the known tropes, then stay away from this one.

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