The Crooked Staircase is the third in a series featuring Jane Hawk, a woman trying to get to the bottom of who caused her husband’s death.
I haven’t read the first two books in the series, but this does well as a standalone novel. Koontz provides enough backstory to being along those who jump in in the middle of the series.
The Crooked Staircase presents us with two somewhat connected plots. Jane is following spurned ex wives in order to track down a sadistic man who makes Dirty John look tame. Her goal: get information on the Hamlet list and those further up in the power chain.
Side note: if you haven’t listened to the excellent Dirty John podcast, do yourself a favor and go do that right now…or after you’re done reading this article.
The Hamlet list includes the world’s most creative minds. If those authors, actors, politicians, police, or other influential individuals have views that run contrary to the group, theyâ€™re put on the Hamlet list and marked for death or brainwashing.
The second plot follows the Shukla twins, authors who have been put on the to-do list for brainwashing. Ultimately, their plot is extraneous to the story. Likable as they are, they seem to exist only as an example of what happens when your name is on the list.
I’m a long-time Dean Koontz fan. I’m talking decades.
While many of his books contain supernatural elements, this one veers more towards crime/suspense (although the events are certainly horrific).
Koontz’s books are generally uplifting, with a theme of good triumphing over evil. There are usually no shades of grey; the baddies are bad through and through and the heroes are angelic. Jane Hawk represents a hero with more tarnished wings than Iâ€™m used to seeing from Koontz.
Generally speaking, his prose sometimes veers a bit towards purple, especially when describing the setting. While there are some places it does that here, itâ€™s rare.
There are quite a few differences here that began to raise my hackles.
His protagonists in other books have razor-sharp dry wit. Snappy dialogue is the native language.
We usually also spend a lot of time in the quiet moments before the action. Characters become like family to us, and we get to know and care about them and the (usually) dark past they’ve overcome to be the strong but somewhat vulnerable people they are now.
That doesn’t happen here. Jane has no sense of humor, and neither do most of the other characters (Gavin and Jessie are an exception).
We don’t have any quiet moments of getting to know the people in this story. Characters are briefly introduced by name and the most superficial characteristics possible, and then dumped right into the drama. High-octane action start at a level of 10 from almost the very beginning.
It just seems…off. Not Koontz, but Koontz-esque.
I’m very supportive of a writer’s growth and change over the years. It’s wonderful to watch an author’s evolution in the process of honing his or her craft and trying new things. Ventures into other genres, audience age-brackets, and even different types of media are all good and encouraged. I donâ€™t expect my beloved authors to stay the same forever.
But this is more a shadow of his previous work. Around halfway through the book, a truly horrifying thought occurred to me:
Is Dean Koontz using a ghostwriter?
Did I mention I’ve been a Koontz fan for decades? I suddenly have a bad case of the vapors and need a fainting couch, stat.
I hope I’m wrong. Hopefully, this is just a branch that doesn’t quite work for me, but part of a still healthy and thriving tree (bad metaphor, I know). To be fair, I didn’t see any evidence of another author on the copyright page.
The Crooked Staircase isn’t bad. Action is packed and settings are vivid. It’s an enjoyable read, cliffhanger ending notwithstanding.
It just isn’t quite the quality I’ve come to expect from Koontz. I’ll still be enthusiastically here for his next books…but maybe not the Jane Hawk ones.
Many thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing an advance reader copy in exchange for an honest review. For more information on how to use NetGalley and read other books on a budget, check out my post on how to get books for free or cheap.
Watch this and other book review videos at my Read Remark YouTube/booktube channel, in which I review The Chalk Man by CJ Tudor, The Hunger by Alma Katsu, and The Crooked Staircase by Dean Koontz.
- The Crooked Staircase by Dean Koontz
- Published May 8, 2018