His name is Dean Koontz, and he leads an unusual life. Koontz uses that same sentence to describe the character at the heart of his Odd Thomas series — an extremely humble character with supernatural abilities. But the description fits the author, as well.
Although he’s a multi-million, best-selling author, he doesn’t do book tours, skips flying, avoids writers’ conferences and rarely gives interviews. In some ways he mirrors Odd Thomas. He’s humble, self-deprecating, has confronted evil and lived to tell the tale and has an eye for the supernatural.
When the Register’s sister publication, Faith & Family magazine, profiled Koontz recently, it included this warning: “Disturbing scenes include violence, gore and frightening portrayals of great evil; some sexuality.” But leading Catholics praise the novels’ deep themes.
After the second book in the Odd Thomas series came out, bioethicist Wesley Smith called Koontz.
“You know what you’re writing about here?” Smith told Koontz. “You’re writing the life of a saint.”
Initially, Koontz disagreed.
“No, no, no …,” protested Koontz.
“The lives of saints are difficult,” says Koontz. “I wouldn’t even know how to write the life of a saint.”
Some weeks went by and Koontz began working on the third book in the series — Brother Odd. Like the previous two, it flowed easily from the very first paragraph.
“I sat staring at the screen and called Wesley,” said Koontz. “I remember that I had [originally] denied it, and had to tell him that he was right.”
Koontz’ books — more than 50 to date — often feature ordinary people facing extraordinary evil. It’s a theme Koontz draws from his own life, as he was raised by a father whom Koontz has described as a sociopath. Later in his life Koontz’s father made two attempts on the author’s life, one involving a struggle with a knife after which Dean found himself facing two police officers with drawn guns. It’s material that he has used in his work.
“I used a version of that incident in my novel, Mr. Murder,” said Koontz. “Everything becomes material to a novelist.”
While his books tell dark stories, many readers have found Koontz’ work increasingly spiritual. Some have even compared his work to that of author Flannery O’Connor.
“From the Corner of His Eye struck me very clearly as being about the mystical body of Christ,” said Christopher Check, executive vice president of the Rockford, Ill.-based Rockford Institute. “It’s about how the death of one of the members diminishes all of us and how the good acts of one of the members improves all of us.”
“There are very obvious Catholic elements in many of Koontz’s novels,” said Check. “He tackles themes of redemption, heaven and, in his latest series, shows that he understands the necessity of sacramental confession.”
If Odd Thomas is to at all resemble a saint, “That raises the stakes of what I’m going to have to do with this character,” said Koontz. “I can’t wait to see where it goes next.”
Wesley Smith agreed. In the books, the character, as described by Smith, is becoming increasingly selfless.
“He’s simplifying his life … away from what the world sees as important,” says Smith.
The spiritual component is something that Koontz says has always been present in his work.
“Spirituality has always been an element of my books,” said Koontz. “People who see it as a sudden development were just not perceiving it previously, when it was less central to the story.”
“I can walk in the rose garden, watch the joyful capering of my dog, and see the indisputable work of God. The key is beauty,” says Koontz, who converted to the Catholic faith while in college. “If the world is merely a complex and efficient machine, beauty is not required. Beauty is in fact superfluous. Therefore beauty is a gift to us. If we were soulless machines of meat, the survival instinct would be all we needed to motivate us. The pleasures of the senses — such as taste and smell — are superfluous to machines in a godless world. Therefore, they are gifts to us, and evidence of divine grace. The older I’ve gotten, the more beauty, wonder, and mystery I see in the world, which is why there are ever more of those three things in my books. “
Attorney and bioethics author Wesley Smith was first introduced to Koontz’s work following the publication of the novel One Door Away From Heaven. In that book, one of the storylines focuses on a bioethicist who sets out to breed disabled people so that he can kill them. In the book’s notes Koontz references Smith’s 2001 non-fiction book, Culture of Death: The Assault on Medical Ethics in America.
“It is the best survey of utilitarian bioethics written for a general audience that I have yet seen,” wrote Koontz. “I highly recommend Culture of Death by Wesley J. Smith. You will find it more hair-raising than any novel you have ever read.”
That led to a relationship between the two authors. Koontz dedicated his novel, The Husband — which is currently being made into a major motion picture — to Smith and his wife.
Smith is grateful for the friendship in more ways than one.
“Before I began doing the work I was doing, I didn’t think evil existed,” said Smith. “I believed people did bad things, but I didn’t believe in evil in a metaphysical sense.”
Today he does, in part, because of Koontz’ work.
“Dean seems to explore the nature of evil,” explained Smith. “His evil characters are self-obsessed, solipsistic, greedy and resentful of people who lead good and decent lives. He’s showing how to recognize evil.”
Despite Koontz’ hyper-success — he has sold more than 300 million copies of his books — those who know him describe him in much the same way as readers might describe Odd Thomas — “down-to-earth.”
“Dean and his wife are as successful as anyone … yet they are non-assuming and non-egotistical,” said Smith. “We were invited to his 60th birthday party. It wasn’t a bunch of high celebrities and movie stars, but people Dean had known all his life and who were meaningful to him. He and Gerda are both salt of the earth and people of integrity and strength.”
Tim Drake is based in
St. Joseph, Minnesota.
- March 11-17, 2007