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Dean Koontz’ Frankenstein, Prodigal Son: A Review

May 28, 2009

Prodigal Son_R1Introduction & Overview: Having been thoroughly impressed by Dean Koontz’ celebrated Odd Thomas series, I thought that I would do myself a favor and try another series of his that had caught my attention while searching for something new on the shelves, namely, Koontz’ Frankenstein.  Now, here I should probably confess that outside of being a huge fan of Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder’s classic Young Frankenstein and being a child of the 80’s that enthusiastically swallowed up the campy Monster Squad flick and its gentle take on the Frankenstein monster that I’ve never really been all that keen on the myth.  I’ve always preferred reading about the howling creatures of the night, and maybe a few vampires and swamp things here and there to reading about Frankenstein or his creation.  I suppose that as ingenious a performance as it was, Boris Karloff’s theatrical version wasn’t enough to a yung-un weaned on Dr. Doom, The Joker and the Red Skull to ever really frighten and as a result I never really gave Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, or his “monster” much of a chance (though, thankfully, the lesson of who the real “monster” of the two was wasn’t completely lost on me).

Enter Deucalion.

Over two hundred years has passed since that fateful night when Victor Frankenstein seemingly brought his creation to life, and having found the means wherewith to prolong his life Victor, now Helios, commands a vast biological empire in the heart of New Orleans, a front for a far reaching scheme to replace flawed and superstitious humanity with a “new race” of his own making who are physically superior in almost every way to the “old race” and completely subservient to his will and desires.  But things become complicated for Victor, and two homicide detectives when a string of ghastly murders breaks out in the city further threatening the safety of its citizens and bearing an unnerving connection to Helios and his plans.  To whom can the city, and a couple of perplexed detectives turn to when the natural becomes supernatural, and the enemy is unlike anything humanity has ever seen?

In these mountains of tibet, a fiery sunset conjured a mirage of molten gold from the glaciers and the snowfields. A serrated blade of Himalayan peaks, with Everest at its hilt, cut the sky.  Far from civilization, this vast panorama soothed Deucalion. For several years, he had preferred to avoid people, except for Buddhist monks in this windswept rooftop of the world.  Although he had not killed for a long time, he still harbored the capacity for homicidal fury. Here he strove always to suppress his darker urges, sought calm, and hoped to find true peace.

From an open stone balcony of the whitewashed monastery, as he gazed at the sun-splashed ice pack, he considered, not for the first time, that these two elements, fire and ice, defined his life.  At his side, an elderly monk, Nebo, asked, “Are you looking at the mountains—or beyond them, to what you left behind?”

Although Deucalion had learned to speak several Tibetan dialects during his lengthy sojourn here, he and the old monk often spoke English, for it afforded them privacy.  “I don’t miss much of that world. The sea. The sound of shore birds. A few friends. Cheez-Its.”

Shortly thereafter, in his seclusion, Deucalion is greeted by a messenger who while shocked at his appearance manages to deliver the post.  ‘It’s him, Victor Frankenstein is alive.’ And its up to his creation to do what he was unable to do more than two hundred years ago.  Stop Frankenstein.

Comments: This isn’t the Karloff monster.  Instead Deucalion (the son of Prometheus in Greek myth after whom he has named himself) is a haunted individual, long lived, with a tragic past who  has set foot on the road to redemption and self-sacrifice despite an inner struggle to suppress an inner rage that continually seeks release.  In Koontz’ Frankenstein we are presented with a heroic figure who has felt a divine presence in his life after some two hundred years of trying to grasp his place in the universe to the point he feels it his destiny to stop the unnatural perversions of his earthly creator.  As such, it was easy for me to cheer him on in the endeavor, particularly as we become more and more aware of the depths of Victor’s depraved mind and privy to what his new race is capable of with little to no remorse for who they hurt, kill and maim in the process.  Honestly, in the back of my mind I was constantly troubled by the ramifications of what an entire world populated by these cold killers would be like as I read and it was truly chilling to imagine.

The story is made all the richer by an interesting cast of characters including homicide detectives Carson O’ Conner and Michael Maddison who find themselves elbows deep in Victor’s plans desperately searching for answers as to what’s happening around them, as well as characters like Erica 4 and Randall 6 who despite being members of the “new race” prove that there’s a little more to his creations than even Victor can comprehend when they act contrary to his wishes, and with tendencies more akin to those he seeks to wipe out completely.  Koontz moves the story along at a breakneck pace, with short chapters that jump into the different characters perspectives and experience to piece together the narrative pinning down the underlying tapestry of the novel.  It’s a true page turner and an awful lot of fun in the process.  The first of a three part series there’s a lot to introduce and to discover in The Prodigal Son and its a fair criticism to say that the ending is a little abrupt, and surprisingly so, as it leads into the next installment but it does serve to prime the reader for the next chapter in City of  Night and I had little choice but to track that down and get started as quickly as I could.

Interestingly, the book was originally a script for a 2 hour pilot that Koontz had developed for an ongoing series on the USA Network, but as he explains in the foreword he pulled out of the project when extensive revisions to the script were made and disappointed in the direction it took, fully realized his story in the one we see here.  That’s good for us because it’s an exciting piece of work and one easily capable of completely capturing the imagination so I give it a very high recommendation to anyone even remotely interested in a good thriller, monster movie, or just a big ‘ol smile on your face.

Look for the 3rd installment of Dean Koontz’ Frankenstein, enttitled Dead or Alive on July 28th.

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