Dean Koontz is a first-class storyteller. I have fond memories of squirrelling under the covers in my childhood bedroom with his horror novels, worried my mother would deem them too adult, or some other protest prefixed with “too” that would see me denied his riches. Revisiting Koontz now had no less of a thrill.
In Elsewhere, we meet Jeffy Coltrane and his young daughter, Amity, trying to move on from the breakdown of his relationship with his wife, Michelle, Amity’s mum. A homeless eccentric, Ed Spooky, tells Jeffy he’s being hunted and hands him “the key to everything”, an object like a remote control for a TV, but making Jeffy swear not to do anything with it. It soon becomes clear the key is important – more important, in fact, than Jeffy and 11-year-old Amity could ever imagine. For Ed is an inventor, who has given them a device that bends time. They plunge into alternate dimensions, including one where AI robots have replaced mankind – dark isn’t descriptive enough! – with the idea of finding Michelle. But this is no game: there’s another who is very interested in the device. The ultimate fate of Earth is in their hands, thanks to Ed, and it’s up to this well thought out duo to fight an evil force that threatens everything they know.
This is one of those novels that defies classification and what a good thing that is. Have genres for marketing purposes, and guiding the reader, but if I’ve learned one thing from my time so far reviewing for Sublime Horror, things ain’t always what they seem. Elsewhere is a thriller. It’s sci-fi and fantasy. It’s out of this world, literally, yet very much of it, too. There are predictable elements (for me, the plot, mainly), but so what? Sometimes, the comfort of the familiar is just what we need, particularly during these disturbed and upset times. And that isn’t to say anything negative: it’s tense and thrilling, and even though I took a good guess at things, that’s half the fun of it.
The idea of alternate universes – in this case, different versions of our own planet – reminded me very much of Koontz’s earlier novels, those paperbacks from the library I devoured undercover, and it felt good. It’s also a handy device for him to do whatever the hell he likes, irrelevant of how far-out or eccentric that may be, and for it then to feel completely right and at home. A character that’s half-boy, half-chimp? Why not!
The bottom line is this: if you enjoy a novel with a fast-moving narrative and satisfying ending, told by a chap who clearly knows how to spin a yarn, then this is for you. Despite not quite escaping the clear pandemic overtones in the story, and politics too, and at times not being able to keep up with which parallel dimension I was actually in, I was absorbed by this offbeat tale for a few happy hours over a couple of days, in the safe hands of an author whose imagination truly knows no bounds – and thank goodness for that. The literary landscape would be poorer without him.
Elsewhere by Dean Koontz is published by HarperCollins.