ASHLEY BELL Review

Ashley Bell: A Novel - Dean Koontz

Synopsis: Featuring the most exhilarating heroine in memory and a sophisticated, endlessly ingenious, brilliantly paced narrative through dark territory and deep mystery, this is a new milestone in literary suspense and a major new breakout book from the long acclaimed master.

At twenty-two, Bibi Blair’s doctors tell her that she’s dying. Two days later, she’s impossibly cured. Fierce, funny, dauntless, she becomes obsessed with the idea that she was spared because she is meant to save someone else. Someone named Ashley Bell. This proves to be a dangerous idea. Searching for Ashley Bell, ricocheting through a southern California landscape that proves strange and malevolent in the extreme, Bibi is plunged into a world of crime and conspiracy, following a trail of mysteries that become more sinister and tangled with every twisting turn.

 

*****

 

Dean Koontz has really shocked me lately . . . and I mean that in a good way. His last few novels have been something of a different breed from what he usually writes and is well-known for, but I certainly don't mind. InnocenceThe City, and now Ashley Bell show a different, more mature and complex side of one of California's most popular living novelists. These novels aren't the intense thrill rides with sci-fi leanings that his most popular works are, but that's okay. Any artist worth his salt changes and matures to stay relevant. His latest novels, while perhaps not as highly involving as his older work, shows Koontz asking the tough questions about what it means to live and die, what existence really is . . . and why. As well, his most recent novels show him taking extraordinary strides toward improving his character work, something I often take beef with when reading even the best of his early work. 

 

At 560 pages in hardcover, Ashley Bell is one of Koontz's longest books yet, but not a page is wasted. This is a trippy, complex story that requires a large canvas to unfold on. Unlike most Koontz books of the past, this one isn't summed up by the synopsis on the jacket . . . no, not at all. The synopsis is only the beginning. 

 

It's no spoiler to say novelist Bibi Blair, the main character, is diagnosed with a rare form of cancer and is given a year -- at most -- to live. Her hospital visits and eventual diagnosis take up the first 150 pages or so, and those pages are among Koontz's most enthralling yet. He lets the story unfold slowly -- so slowly, in fact, that at times it felt like I wasn't reading Koontz at all. That's certainly a compliment, for as much as I love him Koontz tends to jump right into the action of the narrative without letting the reader fully know who the characters really are. This book is a slow-burn in all the best ways -- it takes its time because that's the only way. This book is Koontz at his most complicated and high-brow, and it is vital that the reader fully know and love all the characters to make a high-wire feat such as this novel work and not fall apart. 

 

After the first 150 pages, I was a little let down . . . I'm not going to go into spoilers, but for about 100 pages it felt like a typical Koontz "chase novel" and that was not what I was expecting or wanting . . . but all my misgivings were eventually put to rest. All of my questions (and this book raises many, which adds to the fun!) were answered . . . though the answers were not what I was expecting. I can usually predict what will happen next in a Koontz novel, but not here. He had me blind-sided throughout the entire journey. Either he's becoming a better writer or I'm becoming a worse reader. Hmmm. 

 

I'm going to cut this review a little short because I would hate to risk spoiling anything.I know this review has been a bit all over the place and less than perfect, but this is a novel that simply cannot be explained . . . it can only be experienced. All of the characters felt completely real as well as their dialogue (something Koontz has really struggled with in the past, I've found). The revelations will shock you. The concept is among Koontz's freshest and most rewarding, and would make for a phenomenal movie adaptation. Don't go into this expecting your run-of-the-mill Koontz novel, but instead go in expecting to go on an adventure that makes you question our very existence, the impact art and imagination have on reality . . . . and surfer lingo. Lots of surfer lingo. 

 

If you're a Koontz fan, what are you waiting for? Get this today. If you're not sold on Koontz or maybe gave up on him a few years back after several back-to-back lackluster novels, check this out. You just might like it.