Dean Koontz has a rare talent for creating talented misfits and lovable losers a reader truly cares about. His characters inhabit a shadow world resting somewhere on the edge of our own reality, described so vividly it seems we might look out our back doors and see it. The world and characters he presents in One Door Away From Heaven are no exception. It is, like many of Koontz’s novels, a multi-threaded plot line involving unrelated characters who will, before the conclusion, become hopelessly entangled in each other’s lives and survival. Resting somewhere between a typical thriller and a science fiction novel, One Door Away From Heaven satisfies on both levels, although anyone looking for a hard science fiction narrative may come away disappointed. It is a hybrid of both genres, and while it breaks no new ground in either, is still an enjoyable novel.
Koontz weaves the separate threads masterfully. In one story line we meet Michelana Bellsong, an out of work, border-line alcoholic and Leilani Klonk a nine year old girl with an amazing repertoire of tales and crippled limbs thanks to her addict mother’s prenatal use of heavy narcotics. That her step-father may or may not be a cold blooded killer only adds to the cloth. To be fair, Leilani tends to be more precocious than a McCaully Calkin movie, but she is nonetheless engaging. In another threads Koontz balances Noah Farrel, a down and out private detective who blames himself for his sister’s mental impairment, against a corrupt congressmen and his legion of ex-con cum religious zealots. Finally, riding over everything, is Curtiss Hammond. Orphaned and hopelessly out of his element, the boy and his stolen dog are on the run from the FBI, CIA and sinister forces beyond anything Earth has encountered. He is the central character around which both plot and theme revolve, a Forest Gump-like creature with an innate sense of goodness and a galaxy’s worth of trouble on his tail. Alien abductions, men-in-black and covert government operations all come into play before the novel concludes, and as one character mentions to another, “this is so Art Bell.” (Art Bell is a syndicated radio-talk show host catering to UFO’s and fringe science. Dean Koontz is an admitted listener to the late-night program)
One Door Away From Heaven has all the requisite thrills and escapes to keep the reader’s attention, and while the various plots do meander the pace is consistently fast. I felt the ending might have come a bit too easy, but wasn’t disappointed by it either. Although there are no shocking revelations, the novel carries an important theme that individual lives do matter, and a warning against the all too real threat of Utilitarian Bioethics, a branch of medical philosophy which espouses euthanasia of the crippled and the infirm. The writing is tight, the suspense thick and the conclusion powerful enough to satisfy most Koontz fans, while still placing one foot firmly in the science fiction camp. All in all, a highly enjoyable book.