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Likely Stories

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Keir Graff and editors from Booklist's adult and youth departments write candidly about books, book reviewing, and the publishing industry

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Wednesday, April 22, 2009 1:08 pm
Faster, Book Reviewer! Kill! Kill!
Posted by: Keir Graff

koontz_relentlessA couple of people passed along this link to an io9 post about the new Dean Koontz book, Relentless.

A bad review must have really gotten under Dean Koontz‘s skin. His new book, Relentless, is about an evil book critic who gives a nice novelist a bad review — and then becomes a monster.

The premise recalls a thought I had last weekend while watching Ratatouille with my son (who, thankfully, asked to stop the movie so we could finish reading Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator): that some people ascribe a lot more power to critics than critics actually possess. (In Ratatouille, an evil restaurant critic ruins–and ends–a chef’s life by docking him a star.)

It’s understandable in a way, because even if authors know in their rational minds that a single review can’t make or break their careers (though reviews can have a measurable effect, of course) the feeling of having one’s own work dismissed publicly and for the record can still be devastating.

I speak from personal experience. But then again, I play for both sides.

But what is Koontz aiming at? Settling a score? Simple satire? His protagonist is a best-selling author, so how vulnerable is he, really, to a single bad review? In the Publishers Weekly review, quoted in full, the unnamed reviewer suggests that, whatever he’s aiming at, Koontz misses.

The Booklist review, however, proudly signed by our own Ray Olson, tells a different story. Ray’s review won’t be published until the May 15 issue, but I’m pleased to give you a sneak peek here:

Koontz has injected his opinions about the state of the culture into his crackerjack thrillers ever since Dark Rivers of the Heart (1994), which bristled with indignation over murderous law enforcement against the Branch Davidian religious sect and others. Not since then has he made his perception of cultural disintegration so central to the plot as it is in this outlandish but, once again, smoothly spun nail-biter. Successful novelist Cullen Greenwich—Cubby to his intimates—at long last gets reviewed by the lead critic of the most prestigious American newspaper. But it’s a severely hostile review that indicates that the reviewer didn’t bother reading the book—a real hatchet job. His wife and child-prodigy son, whose passion at age six is physics, advise him to forget about it, but after he learns that the critic lives nearby and patronizes a favorite restaurant of his, he can’t quite. And so, within mere hours, the Greenwiches’ house blows up, and they’re on the run, linked to the rest of the world by disposable cellphones only. Some critic. The murderous reviewer may have chosen the wrong victims this time, however, for the missus comes from a wealthy and very ingenious survivalist clan, and she’s determined to fight back. Asking greater suspension of disbelief, or willingness to indulge angry paranoia about the state of American popular culture, than he ever has before, Koontz still grabs readers as few other thriller scribes can.

Knowing Ray as I do, I can certainly imagine him relishing the idea of an evil book reviewer.

Wonder if Koontz will go after the bookblogosphere next?


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