There’s a blurb on the jacket of Dean Koontz‘s new novel that proclaims Koontz is “working at his pinnacle” in Relentless. Of course, Koontz writes suspense well; he wouldn’t be a number one New York Times bestseller if the masses weren’t caught up in his harrowing tales. And Koontz is definitely at his Koontz-iest in this new book, using a lot of successful methods from his other tales. But this might very well be the problem with Relentless – it just doesn’t feel like a new novel, instead banking on a lot of Koontz’s older plots to help drive the story into very familiar territory. It might be entertaining, thrilling, and well-written, but there’s also a sense of recycling within the plot.
Koontz kicks the story off with usual flair – a budding writer, Cullen “Cubby” Greenwich, is targeted by a spiteful reviewer full of unnecessary criticisms towards Cubby’s new book. Cubby can’t let the whole thing go, finally resorting to spying on the critic, Shearman Waxx, who decides to go whack-job on Cubby and his family by hunting them down with a gang of disgruntled individuals. Koontz’s dialogue is again full of spitfire spunk, with humorous and ironic interchanges laced with sarcastic wit and romantic wordplay, and the plot moves along at a quick clip, not lingering too long on opening details to forestall the advancement of the plot.
But as stated earlier, these techniques aren’t anything we haven’t seen from Koontz before. Like with his other novels, he gives his narrator a distinct personality, one that very much resembles Odd Thomas from his other series of novels. Koontz’s dialogue has always been fun to read given the fact that its quick and full of eccentric conversations, but here again its rehashed in such a way that it doesn’t feel different from the various other books Koontz has used it in.
But what most stands out as repetitious is Relentless‘ plot, which follows a standard formula set up through most of Koontz’s other thrillers – one or more individuals are helpless in the face of an evil and psychotic individual, they run until finally uncovering a hidden truth to help defeat the enemy, and then move on from there. Even the plot arcs of the novel are uncannily similar to the author’s other works. There’s a character with a dark past, a character who knows a secret that eventually comes to help fight the evil, and foreshadowing that’s decidedly misleading.
What’s both compelling and frustrating about Relentless‘ framework, though, is that it works. It’s worked for all of Koontz’s other novels and it succeeds here. For those who don’t follow him as closely as I do, this book will stand out as a thrilling, fast-paced suspense tale, a battle of good over evil. I can’t shake the fact that Koontz is retelling the same story over and over again with loosely shifting plots, however. It seems he’s stuck on a theme of the evils of our new generation for almost a decade now, varying plots but inevitably producing the same effect in the reader.
Relentless isn’t bad, nor is it Koontz’s best. It’s a mediocre tale that ends on a very sour note, trying to cram too much twist into too late an ending. One could do without the Frankenstein-ian aphorisms and cultural philosophy that Koontz mulls over at the end of the book; with a major character being introduced and taken away in such a short time, the conclusion feels held together by a thin thread. Unfortunately, Relentless goes the same route that much of Koontz’s recent output has dwelt on, and in truth, this book has less to say than some of Koontz’s more unforgettable novels. This reviewer would like to see Koontz write towards a different angle – a more unexplored and unprepared territory perhaps, but also a more rewarding and experimental one.