"Darkness Under The Sun" is a novella which can stand alone, but is related to an upcoming Koontz novel, "What The Night Knows." Included is the first chapter of the novel -- and I'll comment on that as well.
I selected this because I like Koontz. Some novels I like more than others, but I'm a fan. I also think he seems like a great guy in real life, and we both have an affinity for dogs, so I'll always lean toward buying his stuff. The other reason I selected this, about as important as the first, is I love novellas and short stories -- particularly ones with horror or suspense - and I cannot get enough. So, an author I like publishing the type of read I enjoy the most.
What has interested me about Koontz in recent years is the combination of something that's always been a part of his writing and the newer choice to become a little edgier. I think of Koontz as an optimistic writer. His characters, no matter what tragedy befalls them, tend to be hopeful. His protagonists are easy to root for because they believe in common decency and are simply good. That's something that's always been there and hasn't left, but Koontz seems to be willing to allow bad things to happen in a way he didn't used to. Bad things always happened to good people, yes, but there always seemed to be a safety net and, if needed, a full on deus ex machina. (Characters would be saved in ways that seemed a little bit like cheats, but you'd like them so much that you were just glad!) A handful of years ago he didn't save a character and I had to respect that and I think his writing needed that in order to be suspenseful -- the reader's belief that thinks could really do very wrong.
As to this novella, I think he met that burden he set for himself in making it tie into an upcoming book. That burden I believe is to make it stand on its own, have it be completely satisfying in its own right, instead of a gimmick to make more money and sell the book. If it had just been a cheap (in quality) and costly (in amount charged) excuse, it would have been inappropriate.
Instead, this is a pretty creepy tale. The narrator is a young boy who has suffered a lot and is about to come face to face with evil in the form of a charming psychopath. It was so easy to care about this child, Howie, to fear for him, to shiver as we pick up on the things this Bad Man says that he is unable to hear yet with adult ears. Howie is a Koontz protagonist in the sense mentioned above and that innate goodness and his loneliness and feeling that he -- like Alton, the bad guy -- is an outsider is what puts him (and others) in danger and is what perhaps will save him too. I think there was also a nice theme of what makes someone a hero and how it can be present even in a little boy.
A lot of the fear dissipated toward the end, but the eerie tone continued. I suppose that as much as I liked all of it, the ending allowed too much of the fear to subside, although there was still creepiness. I suppose that while I think Koontz met the aforementioned burden, the very last portion or two of the book began to be more about (successfully in my case) hooking the reader's interest in the unreleased novel. We see Howie in a figurative sense hand off the story to a detective character and then give up his own relevance. Still, the novella is complete and fully realized.
This is a quick read, ideal for a rainy afternoon or an evening when you can convince yourself that your trusting pet goofball could be a guard dog if need be, or at least give a bark or two, and you're sure the doors are all locked.
The first chapter of the novel is very nicely done and I'm really anticipating reading the rest. Honestly, from that brief portion there were moments I thought it seemed too much like Hannibal Lecter and "quid pro quo," but it was also chilling in its own right. And, of course, I wonder how the novella fits in, what puzzle piece it provides. Anyone reading that first chapter will have a theory on what's going on, many of us the same theory, but only a reading of the novel will answer that for sure -- which means it's almost the perfect hook.
4 stars for the novella, a little taken off for the ending. 4.5 stars or the teaser chapter, but there's no place to put that on the official scoreboard. :)
Edited to add that, unfortunately, What The Night Knows wasn't a successful read for me. I haven't finished it and so I don't want to officially review it, but my main issue was with the children sounding impossibly mature and perfect.