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by Dean Koontz
Warner Audio Books, September 2002
Unabridged audio CD pages
ISBN: 1586214586

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

This rather uncharacteristic and terse (probably novella in length) story tells of Benjamin Chase, Vietnam war veteran and winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor, who comes home with a classic case of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He hides in his small one room apartment, reads, and drinks himself to sleep every night.

His home town chooses to recognize him, although he was uninterested, and presents him with a brand new car, a Mustang. Driving recklessly about town, he arrives at the local lovers¹ lane. Recalling times he once parked there, he stops and watches briefly. He sees a figure drop down from the cliff, creep up to one car, open the door, and begin stabbing the driver. Using his military training, he jumps the man and tries to strangle him but the man gets away.

Then the killer begins calling him. Naming himself ³The Judge² he says he is building a dossier on Chase and when he is ready, he will kill Chase as well. After several near-misses Chase sets out to find the Judge and stop him.

I anticipate an element of horror in Koontz¹s work and I was a little surprised not to find it here. This was a straightforward story of murder and revenge. The characters were rather wooden and none of them came alive for me. Chase sleepwalks through much of the book, the girl who was nearly killed is only a sex symbol, and the librarian Chase meets is strangely calm about everything.

The reading is quite good although I was surprised at some of the inflections and emphases. I would probably have read them slightly differently.

The ending perhaps bothered me most. It was morally ambiguous and laden with vigilante justice and I did not think there was enough rationale for that.

However, there is a bonus, a short story by Koontz called ³Down in the Darkness² and this is an excellent story. Jess Gonzales buys a home and discovers a cellar, a place that the rest of his family cannot see. When he explores, he realizes that there is something awful and frightening at the foot of the stairs. When he meets the seller who is Vietnamese, he recognizes him as the torturer in the prisoner-of-war camp where Jess was interned. Should he use the cellar for vengeance? Should he get rid of all his enemies?

This was an intriguing story with a frightening premise. The reader could not help but identify with Gonzales and yet the decision of life or death for people is not one easily made by anyone. The moral ambiguity in this story did not bother me because it made perfect sense. Oddly enough (or not) the reading of this story was far better, more inflected, more absorbing. Good material elicits good performances.

Reviewed by Sally A. Fellows, February 2003

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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