No one would argue that M. Night Shyamalan, the director of The Sixth Sense, stole the idea for his film from the Dean Koontz’s novel Odd Thomas. The film came years before the novel. If anyone unconsciously copied it was Koontz, right? Well, knowing Shyamalan’s penchant for copying, I’d side with Koontz. Shyamalan must have got his hands on a time machine back in 1998, jumped into the future, read Odd Thomas, then jumped back to 1998 and sold his movie. Koontz, in my mind, can do no wrong.
He certainly does no wrong here. Odd Thomas, which if you haven’t already guessed, is about someone who can see dead people, is masterful. Odd — that’s the character’s true given name — is not an eight-year-old like Haley Joel Osment. He’s a twenty-year-old short-order cook living in the fictional town of Pico Mundo, California, right on the sweltering Mojave Desert.
Unlike the ghosts of The Sixth Sense, the dead in Odd Thomas can’t speak. But like the film, only Odd can see them and only until they choose to move on to the hereafter. Since Odd grew up in Pico Mundo and knows many of its residents, the ghosts are generally people he knew in life, like an English teacher from high school. The one exception is Elvis Presley, who for some reason unknown to Odd has made Pico Mundo his waiting room to the after life.
Besides seeing and avenging the dead, Odd also possesses a psychic magnetism, the ability to find the villain without really looking for him, like a bloodhound led to his prey without following a scent. Odd merely pictures the person’s face in his mind, drives around at random, and then finds the person he’s looking for.
Because he’s had this gift, or curse, of seeing the dead for so long, and successfully used his instinctual magnetism on so many occasions, Odd is fearless. Or I should say, he’s uninfluenced by his fear. He does get afraid; he just doesn’t let it stop him from plunging into danger and tearing after the bad guy.
Within Pico Mundo (Spanish for Little World) is a special circle of friends who know about Odd’s abilities. They comfort him, console him, and in the case of the town’s police chief, rely on him to catch the bad guys.
Koontz is a master creator of vivid, endearing characters, people who in their own world would get no special notice, but who are, in fact, extraordinary. In the case of Odd’s friends, they’re people who are kind and beautiful and simple and exactly the type of people you wish YOU had as friends. I fell in love with them immediately.
Rather than give away the plot, suffice it to say that Odd Thomas is a book that demands to be read quickly. Koontz knows the meaning of narrative drive. He hints at impending danger and the foreboding big event just enough to keep us reading.
It’s a wonderful, frightening, imaginative, heart-braking story. But a warning: if you try to avoid stories that involve truly evil people, skip this one. Evil is abundant. But in Koontz’s mind, evil needs to be present. Otherwise how would we recognize and appreciate the good? Simply put, Koontz is a story teller who shines light into the darkest places, not to show us the dark, but to make the light all the more discernible.