In 1979, Dean Koontz wrote a novel entitled, Whispers, launched on a successful and award-winning career path, earning positions onto the bestseller list, going from an unknown suspenseful writer to this acclaim which shifted his world dramatically. Trying to pigeonhole the author proved a tad difficult, his work still contains solid footing in suspense and thrillers, but expand into realms of horror and partially to the subgenre of cryptozoology. Hence, the rereading and reviewing of his novel Phantoms, originally published in 1983, it presents elements from H.P. Lovecraft. Dean thoroughly worked out all the details on the story before writing it, a thoughtful outline likely laid the groundwork, making this book a true statement of time and remains one of my favorites from him.
The novel actually splits itself into two halves, the first part established the hooks to trap the reader, it reads like a cliffhanger lining up the exploration of discovering some bizarre happenings and creatures. It actually made me think of Village of the Damned and in reading it again, a bit of Silent Hill and even The Mist drifted into my mind, however Knootz’ vision still quite clear. Two primary characters, Jennifer and Elisabeth (sisters only, nothing more than polar opposites) return to their hometown of Snowfield, California, a tight-knit skiing resort town, Jennifer a doctor begins discovering mutilated bodies killed in disfiguring shocking manners, an eerily silence covers the town, no motion, no sound, no other so-called life. Soon nearby police arrive led by Sheriff Hammond request assistance through a series of twists and creepy angles, that arrives from the military biological unit as well as a British academic bookworm. His knowledge proves most useful, though highly questionable and skeptical of the rest of the characters, he tells of the removal of societies, towns, and missing vast swarths of humans, all for the hidden feeding of the calculating ancient ones. It creates ‘phantoms’ consuming life, using it to hunt for more victims, yes it sounds like Invasion of the Body Snatchers meets The Puppet Masters. Nevertheless, the remaining characters work on building bonds, that they all struggle to create through the novel.
The descriptions of the creatures and characters truly propel the story forward, a few times it bogs down on details, but those moments actually benefit to generate a visual conjuring in the reader’s mind. One should note that often found in Dean’s books the happiness saturates often and basks in a glorious manner, but that’s not true for all the characters. A final footnote, the story told herein a version of an urban legend (debunked in 2013; 30-years later) involving a village vanishing completely at Angikuni Lake (Nunavut, Canada) (*1)
Phantoms works with a scary story, of the unknown, it’s a book to enjoy in quiet on a snowy day, or prior a thunderstorm, as nothing in it feels forced, all flowing very natural, if you enjoy Stephen King, there’s a percentage chance you’ll find entertainment with Dean Koontz. Therefore, if next time you venture out into the stillness of the night, nothing moving, no traffic, dead quiet, just know something is always looking back at you, because somewhere it’s feeding time.
Baron’s Rating: 4.5/5.0
Footnote: (*1) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angikuni_Lake