ASH­LEY BELL

Doesn’t ring true

SFX: The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Magazine - - Reviews - Koontz was in­spired by a let­ter from a friend with can­cer, who had out­lived their doc­tor’s prog­no­sis by a year.

re­leased 14 Jan­uary 576 pages | Hard­back/ebook Au­thor dean Koontz Pub­lisher HarperCollins

When you’ve writ­ten dozens of books over four decades, you can be for­given the oc­ca­sional clunker. In­side this much too long novel by vet­eran Dean Koontz is a de­cent enough short book, about a young woman – not the tit­u­lar Ash­ley Bell, but a young Cal­i­for­nian au­thor called Bibi Blair. At the out­set, she’s told she’s dy­ing from a ter­ri­ble can­cer. Then she mirac­u­lously re­cov­ers and the story be­comes a chase, with Bibi pur­sued by shad­owy homi­ci­dal en­e­mies.

There are a great many el­e­ments – child­hood trau­mas, for­tune tell­ers, a stray dog and neo-Nazi Men in Black – that seem un­likely to add up to any­thing. In the end, there’s quite a good so­lu­tion, but it doesn’t jus­tify the long slog to reach it, full of ris­i­bly fey de­scrip­tive prose and ide­alised or de­monised char­ac­ters. Good or bad, they de­liver un­sayable di­a­logue. Bibi her­self is a fan­tas­ti­cally gifted writer and all-round won­der­girl, like the dreaded “Mary Sue” of fan fic­tion. In its favour, the book has some good old-fash­ioned creeps, in­volv­ing me­nac­ing dark houses and hid­den lurk­ing things go­ing boo. And the end­ing also sug­gests a ra­tio­nale for some of the story’s ir­ri­tants. But it doesn’t ex­plain why it had to be so in­or­di­nately long. An­drew Os­mond

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