Well, you won’t find a book more aptly named. Odd by name and odd by nature… Twenty-year-old Odd Thomas takes pride in his work as a fry cook. His fame has spread, bringing strangers to the restaurant in Pico Mundo. Odd cannot say what it is that disturbs him about this particular stranger, but his sixth sense is alert… This is a man with an appetite for operatic terror. The violence he craves is of the extreme variety: multiple untimely deaths spiced with protracted horror. Tomorrow.
Odd’s fears are first for Stormy Llewellyn, his one true love. Stormy believes that our passage through this world is intended to toughen us for the next life – that the many terrors we know here are an inoculation against worse in the world to come. But Odd Thomas knows more than Stormy about this world. Many people in Pico Mundo think he is some sort of psychic, perhaps a clairvoyant, a seer, something. None but a handful know that he sees the restless dead, those with unfinished business and sometimes, plenty of post-mortem rage.
Now, I generally don’t do too much Horror – I dream far too vividly to be able to cope with anything liberally gore-drenched. But this offering was vetted by Himself, who assured me that it was both worth reading and reasonably spatterless and I thoroughly enjoyed this accomplished, well-written book. There is a touch of Gothic otherness in a small-town American setting that had me feeling fiercely protective of the likes of Stormy Llewellyn, Odd’s girlfriend, Police Chief Porter, Mrs Sanchez and Little Ozzie – characters who bounce off the page with their eccentricity and niceness. Writing nice without descending into sentimentality takes skill, which Koontz amply demonstrates in this slow-burn thriller than had me reading far too late into the night/early morning, given I had a poorly grandson to tend.
I enjoyed the fact that Odd’s facility for encountering ghosts has kept him in his hometown, away from busy city streets where sudden deaths are far more frequent, so that he appears to be under-achieving. Whereas in actual fact, he strives to be the best breakfast cook he can be – while keeping track of the creepy black shadows that gather when something terrible is about to happen and trying to avert the impending catastrophe.
Yes, I know it’s not staggeringly original – but Koontz’s particular handling of this plot device is slick and accomplished. I love Odd’s first person narration – that as a bookish, nerdy kid, he is rather wordy. That his terrible upbringing has left him… odd – with a strange innocence alongside his otherworldly gifts and a knack for making friends. It is a refreshing change when so many young protagonists spend their time angst-ridden over their own emotions and feelings, to encounter a character who rarely will address his own pain – turning his emotions into trying to keep everyone he cares about safe. Which brings its own terrible urgency, as a terrible evil continues to circle the heartbreakingly vulnerable community of Pico Mundo.
If, like me, you’re a tad allergic to horror that describes dead bodies in loving detail, but appreciate a tension-filled, paranormal thriller of above average quality, then track down this 2004 offering. You won’t be sorry if you do.