There’s a balancing act to be performed while reading the House at the End of the World. You may need to keep a dictionary at hand to fathom out some of the little-used words that this author sprinkles liberally through his prose – but on the other hand, you can leave all sense of reality at the door.
He may be 77, but Dean Koontz shows no sign of letting his loyal readership down. They adore his quirkiness, the way he bends the real world to his own ends, and of course unique and eccentric characters like Odd Thomas. All of those elements can make it hard for his books to fit snugly into crime fiction – or any other genre – and The House at the End of the World is no exception. Is it crime? Horror? Science fiction? In truth, this novels straddles all three of those options.
Katie lives alone on Jacob’s Ladder, a tiny island in a lake in the USA. Her home is a well-built cottage dating back to the 1940s and she lives simply, interspersing her painting with quiet nights in her living room, where her only companions are a glass of wine and some classical music playing quietly on one of her seven CD players. She cuts a mysterious, solitary figure and that suits Katie just fine.
But what brought her to this solitude? Ah, well. It’ll take us a while to piece the full story together but from the outset it is obvious that something terrible happened in Katie’s past, something that made her decide to leave humanity behind and fend for herself. So far it all seems like fairly standard crime fiction fare, but Koontz soon begins to ramp up the odd and the oddly disturbing. From Katie’s self-contained little island she can see another, called Ringrock, and she is convinced that something dodgy is going on there.
At first, you can be forgiven for dismissing Katie’s fears – after all, she’s living the life of a survivalist, and seems prone to the occasional conspiracy theory, but when the people who work on the secretive installation based on Ringrock spring into life suddenly, it’s obvious that something really bad has happened over there. But what? Aaah, that’s where the Koontz so beloved of his army of followers worldwide begins to flex his muscles and bend the bounds of probability.
Be warned, crime fiction fans – if gritty novels packed with realism are your bag, then The House at the End of the World isn’t for you. Alongside Katie, there’s a wild fox named Michael J whose antics would have David Attenborough in an apoplexy, men in black who have more in common with the guys in the movie of the same name than with regular, run of the mill, enforcers. Then there’s the secretive Ringrock and what is housed there. As I said at the start, prepare to suspend disbelief if you want to see this thing through to the end.
There’s little to like about the enigmatic-to-a fault-Katie until extreme circumstances force her to reluctantly accept help from an unexpected source. Then things kick into gear, the action speeds up and what felt like a bit of a plod becomes a wild ride. After almost admitting defeat several times in the first half of the book, this change of pace made me want to carry on until, finally and frustratingly, everything gets tied up into a pretty bow. The House at the End of the World is satisfying and irritating in equal measure – and the jury is still out as to what genre it truly sits in. Give it a try and see if you can decide!
For more cross-genre crime, try Stephen King’s Later, reviewed here.
Thomas and Mercer
CFL Rating: 3 Stars