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The Whispering Room by Dean Koontz

Published by Bantam on November 21, 2017

Anything that Dean Koontz writes is entertaining by definition, but the Jane Hawk series is far from his best work. The mind-control conspiracy premise is overdone and not particularly convincing.

The Whispering Room gives shape to the “maniacal conspiracy of utopian totalitarians” that Jane Hawk began to uncover in The Silent Corner. As we learned in that novel, the masters of the universe are using nanotechnology to infiltrate brains and force people to kill themselves for the betterment of society (at least as the totalitarian conspirators see it). In this novel, sweet elderly teachers are committing terrorist acts for the same reason. Why sweet elderly teachers are seen as a threat to world supremacy is explained only by the assurance that they were selected by a computer. Presumably the computer had its reasons. Again, I'm not convinced.

The bad guys are “elitists” with Ivy League educations who belittle individuals with “third tier” college educations, which may give the story some populist appeal. Koontz more than once writes about the “foolishness of the elites,” using the kind of divisive political buzzword that stokes fury in certain societal groups but doesn’t really mean anything. That’s unusual and surprising coming from Koontz, who typically embraces unity.

A new addition to the cast is a local law enforcement officer, Luther Tillman, who investigates the murder of a governor, a crime the feds seem surprisingly unmotivated to investigate. Luther stumbles across some journals that refer to a spider building a web in the killer’s brain, and uncovers evidence pointing him to a conference that the sweet killer attended — a conference that seems to have changed her, and perhaps others who were invited so that their brains could be captured.

Another new addition is a kid named Harley who knows that all the adults in his town have taken the Stepford treatment. Luther is a good character but Harley is a bit corny, the kind of brave and adorable kid that has become a stock Hollywood character. I expect more than that from Koontz. I appreciate, however, the minor characters who commit random acts of decency, the sort of people Koontz often scatters through novels to suggest that the human race is not universally awful.

Meanwhile, Jane roars through the novel like a force of nature, moving forward in her investigation from bad guy to bad guy while staying a step ahead of all the bad guys who want to kill her. And since this is a mind-control conspiracy, pretty much everyone wants to kill her. That gives the novel energy and motivates the reader to continue turning pages. And there’s a bizarre fight scene near the end involving nonhuman foes that I enjoyed simply because it is outside the norm of thriller fare. Not entirely believable, but fun.

That is, in fact, my reaction to both novels. I’m just not buying much of what happens, but I’ve enjoyed reading both books. Despite characters who aren’t as meaty as Koontz’s best, an unoriginal premise, and too many unconvincing scenes, Koontz’s ability to hold a reader’s attention makes the novels an easy read. Just don’t expect the books to go where no author has gone before.

The story does not end in The Whispering Room (I'm not sure how many novels in this series Koontz intends to write) but the ending is not a cliffhanger, which I appreciate. The first two novels have enough merit that I'll read the next one without being manipulated by a cliffhanger, but they don't have enough merit to earn wild praise.


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