For some (unintentional) reason I seem to be reading a lot of thrillers this summer. From Christian supernatural thrillers to hitman with a conscience to post-war P.I. stories I seem to be reading a lot of action/suspense type stories.
Why do I bring this up? Well, as you might have guessed, I just finished another one: The Husband by long time and bestselling thriller writer Dean Koontz. Believe it or not this is the first Koontz work I have read. When I was reading a lot of genre type novels I mostly leaned toward espionage. After having read The Husband I can see that Koontz reputation is well deserved. He writes suspenseful and gripping thrillers without failing into the predictable or mundane. He adds plenty of twist and turns while at the same time his writing gives the thriller a thoughtful and almost lyrical quality. The Husband is a quintessential summer read – entertaining, fast paced, and interesting without being too heavy.
What caught my eye about this one was “the hook.” The front cover sets the story up thusly: “We have your wife. You can get her back for two million cash.” Using this basic scenario the book asks the obvious follow-up question: “What would you do for love? Would you die? Would you kill? ”
This has the potential to be just another paint-by-numbers kidnapping thriller where the kidnappers get more than they bargained for and see the tables turned on them. But, even though there is an element of this scenario to the story, Koontz doesn’ take it in an obvious direction. The central character is gardener Mitch Rafferty. Rafferty gets a cell phone call one morning and feels his world crumble around him as he hears the words on the book’s cover and his head spins as he contemplates the questions noted above.
Rafferty doesn’t understand why the kidnappers have picked him. After all he doesn’t have a lot of money nor does he have any connections that would allow him to get his hands on that kind of money. But he has little time to spare wondering about why as he has seventy-two hours to get his wife released. The reader doesn’t have much time to think either as Koontz keeps the pressure on from the start. Just when you seem about to plateau along comes a twist or turn that ratchets up the pressure again.
At first the focus is on how Rafferty must deal with the pressure and find away to rescue his wife. But soon Koontz switches gears to focus on Rafferty’s unique family background and how this ties into both his character and the predicament in which he finds himself. In this way Koontz both fills in the back story while deepening the plot.
As this part of the plot plays itself out Koontz then introduces the perspective of the other side with a focus on Rafferty’s wife and one of her kidnappers. Each layer provides additional detail while also creating new tensions. Just like Rafferty the reader begins to feel like there is never going to be enough time to deal with all of the traps and pitfalls in the alloted seventy-two hour period.
These added layers of complexity give The Husband a unique flavor and keep the storyline from getting stale. Koontz has excellent timing and pacing so the story keeps the tension high without exhausting the reader or straying too far into the realm of the unbelievable. As with all thrillers, there is an element of the fantastic but the action seem believable or possible in the crazy world we live in.
Koontz adds a layer of style with his descriptions of the Californian weather and landscape. Rafferty’s profession gives Koontz an excuse to note the flora and fauna as the story unfolds and he uses the weather to help set the mood and to allow the reader to see setting through Rafferty’s eyes. Throughout the story Koontz also weaves in internal dialog about the reality of evil in the world; about how evil isn’t just an amorphous lack of good fortune but a haunting presence in the world. Rafferty has to face the fact that evil exists and there is nothing to do but fight against it when it presents itself.
As I hope the above has made clear, The Husband is an exciting and entertaining thriller from a master of the genre. Koontz fans are sure to love this latest release while those reading him for the first time will be entertained and impressed.