Friday, December 20, 2013


The Sanctuary is Raymond Khoury's second novel, coming two years after the long-delayed sale and 2005 publication of his first, The Last Templar. But the reader might be forgiven wondering about that, since the two books carry significant similarities and Sanctuary has enough Basic Composition-style mistakes to make it look much more like a first novel or first draft.

The main plot concerns an archaeologist kidnapped by an evil doctor known only by the Arabic word usually translated "doctor," the hakeem. He's seeking a lost formula that may provide immortality, said to have been carefully guarded by a succession of custodians through the years and originating in a remote wilderness in the Middle East. Archaeologist Evelyn Bishop has been kidnapped because she is believed to have information about the formula, and her daughter Mia and a mysterious CIA agent must track her down before the hakeem learns what he needs to know and her usefulness comes to an end.

Unraveling the story depends a lot on three separate flashbacks, which are dropped into the narrative out of order and confuse just as much as they illuminate. Khoury keeps his main narrative moving along well enough, but his style is extremely careless -- four separate things "rocket" in one direction or another in less than a page, and one of those things is a pair of eyes. I'll let you decide what that's supposed to look like. A shot man drops "like blubber." A sudden panic for one character "garrotted her stomach."

So far, Khoury has done a lot better with his series novels building on The Last Templar. Neither of his standalones have measured up; The Sign was a shrill sermon masquerading as a suspense novel and Sanctuary is a recipe that takes stale and unappetizing ingredients, prepares them poorly and sets them out long before they're ready.
Dean Koontz could probably be compared with Stephen King in many ways -- they are contemporaries and they write primarily human-centered fiction that weaves the everyday world with some very strange places, characters and ideas. Although both made their initial successes with horror and horror-related novels, neither has stayed exclusively in that field.

The comparisons aren't exact, though. Both are excellent storytellers and write with smooth, clear styles that don't fall so much in love with their own words as to become incomprehensible. But King probably has more of a literary gift and has in recent years, for better or worse, turned his hand to the production of work that tries to Say Important Things. He succeeds now and again, but he fails just as often and those failures are indeed yucky.

Koontz, on the other hand, seems more content to spin some great yarns which, if they happen to provoke a thought or two, so much the better, but that's not his first goal. From the Corner of His Eye is one of those kinds of books. Koontz said the story idea for the 2000 novel came to him after reading some articles about what's called the "many worlds theory" of quantum mechanics. Oversimplified, that theory suggests that there may be many universes besides our own -- in fact, every universe which might exist actually does exist. Corner offers the idea that these universes relate to human actions and choices, and that some rare individuals have the ability to transfer objects between the worlds. Or maybe even access them.

Bartholomew "Barty" Lampion and Angel White are two preschoolers in the late 1960s who have this kind of gift. Both came into the world through tragedy, and although they don't meet until later in the novel, both are also intertwined with the killer Enoch Cain, called "Junior" because he hates "Enoch." Corner is largely the story of Barty and Angel beginning to display their gifts and of Junior seeking them out because of his belief that a spirit-being of some kind named Bartholomew will mean his end.

Like most of Koontz's work, Corner flows easily and moves much faster than its nearly 800 pages might seem to suggest. Koontz is a devout Catholic and usually includes some kind of theistic worldview in his novels, here weaving it with the many-universes idea underneath it all. An especially neat touch is that his evil killer is not the usual supernally smart and urbane wicked genius but instead a stupid and vain sociopath whose violence stems straight from his inability to accept that other people's lives don't have anything to do with him.

Corner has some interesting ideas, even if the story in which they're embedded isn't likely to stick with you for very long. But that's something Koontz does well, has been doing well for some time and will probably continue to do well for some time more.

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