Demon Seed (1973)
It didn’t matter that he had been writing for a long time before Demon Seed, because this book was his first best-selling book. It’s the story of Susan Harris, a wealthy and reclusive divorcee, and the computer that keeps her locked up in her house. People say Proteus wants to be able to live outside of machines and experience things the way people do. But the only way “he” can do this is to get Susan pregnant with his biologically engineered spawn and then live inside of it with his own mind. During the 1970s, this horror/sci-fi/twisted love story was a big deal because it was the first science fiction book to be published. Also, a 1977 movie starring Julie Christie was made based on the book. This movie was a little like Black Mirror.
Night Chills (1976)
A common theme in Koontz’s work is a hugely evil but unknown person wreaking havoc on innocent people, which makes it a mystery for the protagonists to solve. In Night Chills, that force makes people in Black River, Maine, do terrible things, like attack and kill their own friends and neighbors. It turns out that Paul Annendale and his kids don’t know what to expect when they arrive at Black River for a camping trip. They soon learn that they have no choice but to try and fight it. “Night chills” will soon be unstoppable unless they can get rid of the men who are behind the curtain. (Be aware that this book has a lot of grotesque images and graphic rape scenes, so use caution when reading it.)
Whispers is thought to be the book that made Koontz a household name. Following screenwriter Hilary Thomas, who lives in LA and is being stalked by a violent psychopath, is this movie. Bruno Frye thinks that Hilary has the spirit of his abusive mother inside of her, and he wants to get rid of it (sort of a reverse Norman Bates, if you will). There is even more to be afraid of: Even when Hilary gets the police involved, Frye can’t be talked out of it. Even after she stabs him to death. They have to figure out how Frye can still be alive before they both die from his twisted methods.
The Mask (1981)
Owen West was a pseudonym that Koontz used when he wrote The Mask. It’s a lesser-known scary book that’s great for Halloween reading. In this book, Carol and Paul Tracy want to add to their family by adopting a child. After meeting a young girl named Jane who has amnesia and can’t remember her own past, they’re happy to take her in. That is, until Jane starts having nightmares, sleepwalking, and giving off hints that something sinister is lurking beneath her surface. After Whispers, this book is about a family, identity, and the idea of possessive spirits with a chilling and unique twist.
In Phantoms, a small town is taken over by another mysterious force. It’s all based on the real-life legend of the disappearing village at the lake. But instead of setting everyone in Snowfield, CA on a killing spree, it seems to have just wiped out everyone there, except for a few bloated bodies. Dr. Jennifer Paige and her sister Lisa are sure to be shocked when they see the town in such a bad way. The Biological Investigations Unit of the military is there to help them right away. Yet even the best scientists can’t figure out what caused such a rapid mass extinction. That is, until they come across the work of Timothy Flyte. There is a lot of H.P. Lovecraft in this book. There is a lot of weird folklore and weird things that don’t make sense.
Strangers isn’t like the other books that Koontz had written up until this point. It’s mostly about the people who were brought together by a common but unknown experience. Dominick, Ginger, Ernie, and Brendan all have different problems that seem to be linked to sleep and unconsciousness. Ginger, for example, often goes into a dissociative fugue state, and Ernie has a paralyzing fear of the dark. In the pre-Facebook era, these “strangers” found each other through a collection of photos in which they were all present, even though they don’t remember when they were taken. Slowly, the source of the images is shown. As they try to figure out the conspiracy behind them, more of the group comes together to help them. Similar to Night Chills, this book shows how distrustful Koontz is of the government and the dark possibilities that lurk in a system that protects civilians at their own expense.
A common theme in Koontz’s books is that dogs are man’s best friend, which comes from his real-life love for dogs. Watchers starts with Travis Cornell, an ex-Delta Force member who is looking for a new purpose in life. He finds a golden retriever and a baboon-like creature in a canyon near where he lives. When Travis rescues the golden, he names him Einstein because he thinks the dog has a lot of brain power and takes him home. Of course, Travis and Einstein have a long way to go before their problems are over. Soon, they’ll be on the run from federal agents and a professional assassin hired to kill everyone from the project that made Einstein and the baboon creature. Watchers is a roller coaster ride from start to finish that is both weird and thrilling. It’s great for people who like their suspense novels to be a little out of the norm.
Koontz really hit his stride with this book, which has one of his most original ideas and some of the best worldbuilding he’s ever done to support it. Lightning is about Laura Shane, a girl born during a lightning storm who narrowly avoids the consequences of a botched delivery thanks to the help of a complete stranger. She was born during a lightning storm. When Laura is in trouble, the same person always comes back to protect her. This person is a child molester, for example, but he always comes back to protect her from harm. In the years that have passed, Laura can’t help but wonder who he is and why she’s been chosen by him. Yet, the truth is far more interesting than even her wildest ideas (and probably the reader’s, too).
People who don’t know each other again come together in this story about Moonlight Cove, a once-sleepy beach town that’s now overrun by part-human, part-beast killers. In Moonlight Cove, a sister of one of the victims and an undercover FBI agent show up to look into the case. They come across Chrissie Foster, an 11-year-old whose parents have turned into the killer creatures and who has just made it out of the woods alive. In order to figure out what’s going on in Moonlight Cove, these three people must look into the town’s dark history and the people who are the most disturbed. They’re not helped by the fact that the local police are trying to cover up the whole thing. This is another example of how Koontz shows his distrust of “the authorities” and his faith in the individual.
The Bad Place (1990)
Alas, the critically acclaimed show starring Kristen Bell was not the source of its inspiration. Koontz’s The Bad Place is, of course, much darker and more like Memento: Frank Pollard wakes up in a bad place every day and can’t remember anything except that he has to run. A husband and wife security team is hired to protect Frank because he is afraid of forgetting things. After several close calls with a mysterious attacker, Frank hires them. It turns out that Bobby and Julie Dakota aren’t going to be able to solve Frank’s case and figure out who killed him. Because they can’t fight fate, and Frank’s fate was set when he was born (another frequently recurring theme in Koontz).
Dragon Tears (1993)
Tuesday was a beautiful day in California until Harry Lyon had to shoot someone at lunch. That’s a great way to start a story. In the beginning, Harry, a special projects officer, and his partner, Connie Gulliver, have a very busy week together. In the near future, Harry and Connie will meet a man who is dirty and tells Harry, “Tick, tick, tick.” You’ll be dead in 16 hours. Odd and violent things have been happening in this small California town, and our two heroes have to figure out who or what is behind them. Dragon Tears is known for its quick shifts in perspectives between the main characters, including a few chapters from the point of view of a dog.