If you don’t have the stamina for a book review right now, scroll down to the question at the bottom for an interesting ethical debate!
The last time I read a Dean Koontz novel, he was specifically a writer of horror stories. That was a fair few years ago to say the least, and in the meantime Koontz seems to have transcended the pure horror genre. These days, he seems to be writing in the more modern, more lucrative thriller style.
My cynicism (for Koontz’s motives) aside, the man has not lost his touch. Velocity is a fast-paced crime thriller, but manages to raise some interesting moral and ethical questions at the same time.
What’s It All About?
The plot centres around Billy Wiles, an average Joe bartender in a nameless tavern. Wiles lives a simple, innocuous lifestyle: working at the tavern by day and returning to the house where he lives alone at night. Occasionally he visits his comatose girlfriend in hospital.
Things quickly turn sour when Billy discovers a note on the windshield of his car. The note threatens that if he goes to the police, an attractive young schoolteacher will die. If he does not, an elderly woman will be killed. By his actions, Billy will determine the fate of these women.
At first assuming the note to be a cruel joke, Billy takes the note to a friend, Lanny Olsen who is a police officer and asks his advice. Lanny tells him to ignore the note, only later discovering that a schoolteacher has been killed. This begins a series of decisions Billy is forced to make by the anonymous killer and a tortuous game of cat and mouse commences, with Billy trying to discover the killer’s identity while realising that the end game may have terrible consequences for him.
Not only is the killer planting evidence that will incriminate Billy in the murders, he has his eyes set on Billy’s girlfriend and ultimately Billy himself.
Koontz is to be applauded for writing such a compelling and intense page-turner. He keeps his chapters short, ending each with a minor cliffhanger so you read voraciously (sure I’ll just read the next chapter…). The cast of characters is well conceived and each is brought to life vividly by Koontz for the roles they play.
Despite Billy’s attempts to unmask the killer, his identity is only revealed in the last few chapters of the book for a dramatic showdown. Koontz will manage to keep you guessing this one until the end (and I don’t intend to spoil it for you!).
Needless to say, I found Velocity to be an excellent piece of storytelling. I mentioned earlier that the thriller genre was much more lucrative than horror these days. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this appear as a movie some day – it ticks all the right boxes.
Perhaps the central theme of Velocity is the moral dilemma of being forced to choose the fate of another person, through action or inaction.
If you don’t take this note to the police and get them involved, I will kill a lovely blond schoolteacher. If you do take this note to the police, I will instead kill an elderly woman active in charity work. You have four hours to decide. The choice is yours.
The proposition is a difficult one – your actions will doom an individual, one way or another. I thought the decision to include the word “attractive” when describing the schoolteacher was quite cunning. Would you save an attractive person over a vitruous person? On the spur of the moment, how do you determine one person’s right to life over another’s?