Sunday, February 08, 2015

Saint Odd: "As it was in the Beginning..."

"As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen." - Gloria Patri

 In Saint Odd, the affable young man named Odd Thomas returns to his small home town of Pico Mundo; and author Dean Koontz returns to human-scaled action, unencumbered by conspiracy theories and apocalyptic visions that encroached on the later novels of his series.  The story is simple: Odd searches for clues to thwart a cult's scheme for mass murder while the cult's assassins pursue him. 

Being Odd, he can also ask the spirit world for a hint.  He sees (though he cannot hear) dead people; he has a sixth sense to guide him to any goal that he can picture; and he is haunted by prophetic dreams that give him a vague idea of the cult's plan.  He also has a premonition of his own death.  No spoiler alert:  Odd, our narrator, is up front about the end of his story. "I came home to die and live in death." 

More than a plot device, Odd's sense of worlds beyond this one gives substance to the story.  Otherwise, it could be just a video game, our protagonist picking his way through unfamiliar terrain -- a canyon, a derelict shopping mall, an almond orchard, a farmhouse -- trying to shoot bad guys before they shoot him.  But digital avatars don't climb down into the canyon "in Good Samaritan mode" to check on the faceless driver who just ran off the cliff trying to kill him (12): "I couldn't let him bleed or burn to death just because of his idiocy behind the wheel of the SUV."  On the brink of surprising the bad guys, in the grip of "cold, controlled fury," Odd considers that he is now two Odds:
...the fry cook who had written poetry for the girl he loved and wept at movies like Terms of Endearment, but also the ruthless killer who could shoot men in the back.  The darker Odd Thomas thought his violence must be righteous... .But the other Odd wondered if the claim of righteous purpose, exerted so often in the past two years, was always true -- or might be overused. (262)
In pain, expecting to fail, Odd lunges forward, believing that his efforts matter: "In this world, Evil works through countless surrogates.  Its name is Legion.  But Good works through surrogates, as well, and they are legion, too" (325).  

In an interview at, Koontz tells how Roman Catholic theology gives the world "shape and form and function and meaning" (Beliefnet interview, p. 1).  Odd's girl friend Stormy, lost in the first novel of the series, but ever-present in Odd's thoughts, is quoted often speculating that the universe has a structure.  This world is like a "boot camp," for a battle that continues in another world that she imagines will "out-Tolkien Tolkien" before arrival at final peace.  There's no need for a reader of the series to get hung up on the doctrine of Purgatory, just to share in Koontz's vision of good as eternal, creative, long-suffering, but destined to win over those who, cultists or not, are motivated by the thought, "Can't be me made a mess of my life, must be your fault, so you're gonna pay" (196).  The entire series has been a fleshing-out of that vision.

Asked if he weaves his faith into his novels consciously, or if it's second-nature, Koontz says it's both: 
"I would say it happens because of what your world view is. And it's going to happen automatically without your straining to do it. The way I sometimes begin a story is with a premise, just an odd little thing."  (Read more at  

For all the mayhem and dark ruminations, Odd's own humor and appreciation of beauty keep the reading light and uplifting.  "I have a tendency to hope always for the best," he tells us on page one, "even when I'm being strangled an angry, three-hundred-pound Samoan wrestler" (3).   Kind and brave people leaven the story, and, late in the game, one dog that lays a benediction on him:
Muggs scrambled off the backseat.  Standing with his hind feet on the floor, he pawed forward between the front seats and came face-to-face with me.  I would have been fine with a dog kiss, as long as it was on the cheek; but Muggs had something else in mind. His eyes met mine, and he grew very still, his gaze penetrating, his demeanor solemn.  ...I thought, This is A Moment, stay with it.  ...Then the dog shook his head, flapping his floppy ears, and terminated our moment with a sneeze.  (302-3)

That little scene resonates with one early in Koontz's memoir of his dog Trixie.  In Koontz's world, inside and outside of book covers, angels are everywhere, in friends, strangers, and dogs.

Dean Koontz.  Saint Odd. (New York: Bantam Books, 2015).  
For an index of my reflections on other books in the Odd Thomas series, see the section on Dean Koontz on my Crime Fiction page at this blog.  

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