Allan Mayer’s Weblog

Posts Tagged ‘Dean Koontz

Prestatyn 09 004Well that’s the holiday period well and truly over.

Before I went down with the swine flu I did take a couple of holidays- the first in Menorca at a Thompson Gold hotel, the second at the other end of the market at Pontin’s in Prestatyn.

Normally we would take two weeks in the sun. The reason for this total departure was that this is our first real summer as foster carers, so we took our first tentative steps into the world of the family holiday.

I am surprised at the extent to which I enjoyed the second holiday.

The accommodation was basic, but in a quiet location and we had one of the best weeks weatherwise of what has been a drab and dismal summer.

The social club, where the evening entertainment took place was, not to put too fine a point on it my idea of spending eternity in one of the lowest pits of hell: dirty, cramped and noisy. But with full days out on the beach and visiting local towns, we didn’t need much entertaining at night.

The best thing was the standard of activities for the kids during the day- a full programme including archery, zip-wiring, quad biking- which our foster son loved perhaps only slightly more than we enjoyed watching him.

I even managed to get some reading done: Odd Thomas, by Dean Koontz. Although I have read loads of his books I have for some reason only just got round to this, which is perhaps one of his best and the first in a series. Spooky, humourous, thrilling and in places extremely moving. Loved it.

So would we go back to a British Holiday camp? We’re already planning the next one. Like any holiday, you have to take from it what you want and leave aside those things which just aren’t your cup of tea.

Not that I could totally leave behind my week in the sun…

Summer. And we love nothing better than flying off to restful, idyllic, carefree environments. Places where we can soak up the sun. Places where we can partake of exotic food and drink…

 Places where we can read about the gory exploits of crazed but highly intelligent serial killers.

Odd that. Although we would definitely not want to live next door to one, so many of us find great delight in reading novels about psychopaths- and novelists seem to be continually stretching themselves to find crueller and bloodier methods with which they can dispose of their victims.

This year I read two novels during my one-week break: Velocity, by Dean Koontz, and ‘Book of the Dead, by Patricia Cornwell.

I was on sure ground with Koontz, and I took great pleasure in the fact that (**NAMEDROP ALERT**)   Velocity was recommended to me by Koontz himself. Considering his output, I’m sure that the reply to my letter was sent from the pile labelled ‘send to wannabee authors seeking advice,’ but it did bear his signature (In ink) and has influenced the style of my next novel. Koontz suggested that any new novelist attempting to break into the field should go for the ‘High Concept Novel.’ He said that the only novel of his that he considered ‘High Concept’ was Velocity.

And it is a great rollercoaster of a read. So what would you do if you received a letter which said ‘ If you don’t take this note to the police, I will KILL a lovely blonde schoolteacher somewhere in Napa county. If you do take this note to the police, I will instead KILL an elderly woman.’

I’m sure that in this position I’d just take the note, but in true Koontzian fashion there are lots of good reasons why it isn’t that simple, and a strange logic to how Billy, the hero of the piece gets further and further embroiled. Lots of beautifully ghoulish scenes about how to dispose of a dead body without spoiling your carpet, and a satisfying denoument in which we find that the clues really have been there all along.

I have never read a Patricia Cornwell, and am aware that Book of the Dead is quite a way into the series of Kay Scarpetta novels. This made no difference to my enjoyment of the book, as there were enough references to the characters’ backstories to put you in the picture.

The characters are brilliantly crafted, and in addition to detailed forensics there is immaculate characterisation. I particularly enjoyed the way in which the complex relationships of the major characters are portrayed.

If you don’t like forensic detail- e.g. descriptions of bodies with their skin peeled off and eyes removed- not by the psycho but by the good guys- in order to confirm that abuse has taken place, then this novel is not for you.

I thought it was excellent, and will be looking for more in the series.

 

 Andy Cope, author of the SpyDog series, once asked me the inevitable question: as authors are supposed to write about what they know, do I presume that you witnessed scenes like those in ‘Tasting the Wind?’

Of course the answer is Yes. I did work in a ‘Mental Handicap’ hospital in the 80s, people were treated like sub-humans (not wanting in any way to forget the good staff who struggled to maintain people’s dignity against the odds) and there was a culture of what disability guru Wolf Wolfensberger called ‘death-making.’

It is this experience, more than any other, which informs Tasting the Wind.

In the prologue a man dies having been tied to his hospital bed by a nurse and allowed to choke on his own vomit. The scene was based upon something which really happened, although I have changed the circumstances radically so that its origin cannot be traced back.

Now I would have expected everyone who read that to be appalled. I was surprised when I put it out for review that more than one reader followed the tack of ‘well it wasn’t really murder was it?’ (no, technically it wasn’t) but then went on to say that because I didn’t say what the hospital’s restraint procedures were they were probably doing something quite acceptable.

THEY TIED HIM TO THE BED AS A PUNISHMENT THEN LEFT HIM TO DIE AS THEY HAD SEX IN ANOTHER ROOM FOR GOODNESS SAKE.

Now I do have a different perspective here because I work with people who have severe learning disabilities on a daily basis, but it does seem sometimes that even in these supposedly enlightened times we still lower our standards of what is acceptable when dealing with a severely disabled person.

Imagine that it is one of your loved ones- your wife, child, mother. They’ve done something that a nurse finds unacceptable- like complained about the food. So the nurse ties them to the bed and goes off and leaves them to choke. Would you be talking about hospital procedures then?

The first Dean Koontz novel I ever read was One Door Away From Heaven. It featured a psychopathic killer who murdered disabled people, dressing his actions up as ‘utilitarian bioethics.’  What he did was shocking, but I was even more shocked by Koontz’s postscript, where he explained that utilitarian bioethics was actually being preached by some American academics.

One of the arguments put forward by this warped philosophy was that the existence of severely disabled people brought sorrow into the world. You get rid of those people, you reduce the amount of sorrow.

I don’t need to point out the similarities between this and the beliefs of a certain mid-twentieth century dictator.

Yesterday I atteneded the funeral of a twenty-four year old lady who had been born with severe learning and physical disabilities. And we celebrated her life. We didn’t talk about her in a pitying and patronising way, we remembered her as a person who had touched all of our lives. For the moment the sum of sorrow in the world is increased by her loss.

And I am left with the question: what does it mean to be truly human?


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