One late afternoon, sisters Jenny and Lisa Paige drive up to Snowfield, CA, a small ski resort village where Jenny works as a doctor. Lisa, her fourteen year old half sister, comes to live with her after the death of their mother. Though Jenny is used to the town being quiet, when she drives through it she notices that the lights are on but nobody’s home (which is, in and of itself, an accurate description of any character in this novel, but I digress). As she investigates she discovers something disconcerting: while she finds some bodies, others appear to have vanished into thin air. Equally alarmingly, all animals appear to have disappeared too. Jenny manages to alert the local police force and Sheriff Bryce Hammond comes to investigate with his men.
That’s as good a description as I can give you for this novel. I can also tell you it’s fairly long and the pace is wildly uneven. As per usual with horror novels, it’s much better before the villain is shown; up to that point it’s fairly creepy, though it manages to be engaging even after the antagonist shows itself. The setting – a sleepy and isolated town in the mountains – makes for a good setting. The central mystery is fairly compelling and the imagery is on point. Koontz wastes few words and isn’t overly descriptive until the ending, which is just as well, because the novel is long enough as it is.
Where the novel loses me is with its flat characters, though. Lisa and Jenny are interchangeable most of the time, though one is at least fifteen years older than the other. They’re plot devices; they observe and provide exposition. Lisa does a lot of gagging but other than that she’s little more than something for the cops to fawn over. The same goes for most of the police officers on Hammond’s team and I kept mixing them up. Others do have defining characteristics, but quite often these are simply a setup for their eventual demise (it’s no surprise that the worthless asshole who tells his colleague he’d like to rape Lisa meets his end first). I understand why Koontz chose not to elaborate and focus on the mystery, but it’s almost painful how paper-thin these characters are, though I will say this: for a book written in 1983 it passes the Bechdel test relatively easily, even if one of the good cops eyes Lisa and thinks to himself “she’s gonna be totally fuckable in a few years’ time.” (I’m paraphrasing here but WHY DID YOU THINK IT WAS NECESSARY TO POINT THAT OUT?!)
There’s also a bizarre subplot involving two particularly nasty criminals that goes absolutely nowhere and that left me feeling baffled, as if Koontz started out with a great idea but it kind of petered out so he just left it in, then forgot all about it, realised he still had loose ends to tie up and wrote a slapdash resolution to get the whole thing over with.
I’d never read a Koontz novel before, and now I have. I can’t say whether it’s improved my life or not. I didn’t think much of him to begin with and I’m not sure I do now. It’s a bit like eating Haggis; it’s not as bad as you think but you’ll probably never order it again.