Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz (2003)
Though I have liked both of the books I have read by Dean Koontz in the past (Fear Nothing and Phantoms) he isn’t one of my go-to authors. My perception of his work and the fact that his name is frequently spoken in the same breath as Stephen King’s (and as it happens, the books of these two writers are often found on the same shelves, almost back to back with each other), I tend to think of his novels as residing more in the horror genre than anything else. Horror isn’t a genre I seek out all that often because I don’t like to be scared. Life in the 21st century is plenty scary enough. But then every time I read a book by Koontz I remember that it isn’t that his books are really horror. Instead they are suspenseful and you don’t always know what awaits the characters around the next corner. If you haven’t ever picked up a book by Dean Koontz because you’re also not a fan of the horror genre, but you do like suspenseful stories that will keep you turning the pages, give Odd Thomas a try.
While I have seen this series of books in the bookstore many times, I always thought that “odd” was a way of describing a character named Thomas. In actuality, the title character’s name is Odd Thomas. The story is told from Odd’s first person point of view, and the first things we learn about him are that he’s twenty-years-old and lives in a garage apartment in the smallish town of Pico Mundo, California. The thing that makes Odd, well odd, is that he can see dead people. Yes, exactly like the little boy in The Sixth Sense, but Odd insists that he doesn’t just see dead people, he does something about it. Odd is a fry cook in a small diner, where his boss, Terri, is a walking encyclopedia of every single fact about Elvis Presley. Indeed, Elvis’ ghost haunts Pico Mundo, though Odd is at a loss to explain why. He has an extreme aversion to guns, parents from whom he is mostly estranged, and a resolve to keep anyone other than his closest friends from learning his secret. Odd, on occasion, provides information to the town sheriff, Chief Porter, that will help him capture criminals and solve crimes, and it is in this way that the story begins. Odd is approached by the ghost of a young woman who, in her way, reveals the manner of her death and the person responsible for it. In addition to Chief Porter, the other characters that make up his circle of confidants include his girlfriend, Stormy Llewellyn, Little Ozzie, the aforementioned Terri Stambaugh, and Chief Porter’s wife, Karla. Through his first person account, Odd brings each of the supporting cast of characters to life, as well as the dead who do not speak.
Writing about this book and avoiding major spoilers proves a difficult task, and so I’ll keep my focus on Odd as a narrator and a protagonist. Little Ozzie is a successful writer, and when Odd was in high school, he won a writing contest sponsored by Ozzie, who presented him with his award. In the time since, the two have become friends. As the story unfolds, Odd demonstrates that he is conscious of his role as narrator. Thus, the hints and asides he makes as his narrative moves from start to finish should definitely be paid careful attention. He also sets himself up as an unreliable narrator because Ozzie suggests that he do so, and this, too, becomes an important aspect of the story that shouldn’t be overlooked. Though we, at times, question his reliability, we don’t question his sincerity. Odd is who he is, and he owns his faults, his successes, his fears, and his pain. There is, after all, a reason that Odd has taken up his pen, and like many other first person narrators before him, part of what drives him to write down this story is to make sense of what happened. It is a reflection and a meditation, and it is both charming, brutally honest, and crushingly painful. As a reader, I grew more invested in Odd with each new chapter, engrossed in his story and rooting for him to save his city from the threat of darkness looming over it. He is an unlikely protagonist, but he is genuine and real, and in spite of all things that make him odd—that make him exceptional—it is more than clear that he is in so many ways that matter most, just like everyone else.
I always measure the first book in a series by the extent to which it makes me want to run (or click) to my nearest bookstore and get the next installment. I have already read the description for book two and added it to my to be read list. The series has a lot of potential and there is much room for Odd to grow and evolve as a character. In truth, Odd Thomas is not the typical male protagonist that usually draws my interest. If I hadn’t already heard good things about this series and been familiar with Koontz’s work, I probably wouldn’t have picked up this book (I’m not a fan of the new adult genre and mostly pass up any book that even looks like it belongs in that category). While Odd is only twenty years old, he’s one of those characters that has maturity beyond his years. He’s a relatable character whose journey intrigues me, and I look forward to seeing where his experiences take him. If you enjoy suspenseful thrillers with a dollop of the supernatural, I recommend reading this book. Odd will pull you into his world, and you may find you want to stay awhile.