I have been reading Dean Koontz’s book for as long as I can remember. While I still enjoy most of his work, it has been a while since he has been able to capture my imagination as he used to do. When I first say the cover and read the description for his upcoming novel, “Ashley Bell,” I thought that this book sounded like one of his older novels and was excited to see if it would once again capture that old Koontz magic.
Bibi Blair never had time for fate or the supernatural. She was a take charge type of person that focused on the things that she could see and conquer. Bibi’s world comes crashing down around her when she finds herself suddenly afflicted by a rare form of cancer that gives her less than a year to live. Bibi at first approaches the disease as just another concrete obstacle for her to overcome but she is forced to accept that there could be something more to it after a visit from a strange man and his dog that leaves her seemingly healed. She may have overcome the cancer but the struggle of her life has just begun.
When she is released from the hospital, she learns through a medium that she was saved from her cancer in order to save the life of a woman that she had never heard of before: Ashley Bell. Now Bibi finds herself in a race to find Bell and save the woman before it is too late as dark and sinister forces are beginning to close in around Bibi to keep her from Ashley. As the mystery deepens, Bibi realizes that she may have the answers she needs locked away in her brain years ago by her grandfather. As she begins to pry these secret memories from the vault of her mind, reality begins to twist around her and her sanity is pushed to the limits as she realizes that she may be her own worst enemy.
“Ashley Bell” starts off strong and I was immediately caught up in the story. It did seem in the beginning that this was the return of the darker Koontz of years gone by. Even the dogs that passed through the story, which has become an almost obsession for Koontz at the expense of the story, were relegated to the background rather than becoming focal points. Bibi was faced with the prospect of imminent death and the tone of the novel was somber. Even her apparent conquering of the disease did not sit right and there was a promise of dark and dangerous things to follow. This was a master storyteller returning to the height of his talent and crafting a dark and compelling tale of suspense and terror. There was even the hint of a conspiracy with military roots hovering in the shadows waiting to emerge. Koontz had sunk his claws in to my mind and I was hoping that he would not let go.
Unfortunately, the story begins to unravel some after the first 100 pages or so and becomes a bit of a mess. It is still an interesting mess that approaches brilliance at times but just was not able to keep the same sense of urgency throughout the story. As Koontz begins to make the characters and the reader question reality, the story becomes somewhat disjointed. The reader is forced to think about what is really happening and what is just in Bibi’s mind and this bogs the story down somewhat. I found my mind wandering at times before being caught up in the story again. I still enjoyed “Ashley Bell” but I thought it was just a little too disjointed to be a truly compelling read. There is a hint of the old Koontz in the novel which I really enjoyed but there was just a little too much effort put into making the story a kind of supernatural story rather than just letting it flow along naturally for it to be a great read. Still, this was the best new Koontz novel that I have read in a while and is what I hope will be a return to form for the author.
I would like to thank Ballantine and NetGalley for this advance review copy. “Ashley Bell” is scheduled to be released in December.