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I finished Dean Koontz’s novel Watchers yesterday. This is the first Koontz novel I’ve read, and he seems to have a definite grasp on how to manipulate emotions in the reader so as to heighten the suspense. His characters are well-drawn; the central two — Travis and Nora — are people we care about, and thus as they move into situations of increasing danger our involvement in the story grows.

The plot could be described, very loosely, as “ET: The Extra-Terrestrial meets The X-Files“. It is not purely a horror novel, nor is it science fiction; it is really an interstitial work that contains elements of both. While hiking in the woods, Travis encounters a golden retriever that seems to be fleeing….something. Travis helps the dog (and the dog helps Travis, a reciprocity that really fuels the novel) and the two escape whatever is in the woods. The book is really a series of escapes and pursuits, with Travis and the dog rescuing Nora from a sexual assailant, all three fleeing the something in the woods, the something in the woods fleeing the NSA agents assigned to find it, and everyone being unaware of the psychotic hit-man who is tracking everyone. Add to all this government labs that are dabbling in things they shouldn’t, peripheral Mafia involvement, and even a dash of Soviet intrigue (apparently the book is set pre-1989), and you have quite the potboiler.

The book’s main flaws are that the love story between Travis and Nora take over, relegating a lot of the interesting side action to secondary importance. Also, the book’s ending comes as a bit of a let-down; the confrontation that one expects between all of the story’s participants is over surprisingly quickly (and, quite frankly, I expected matters to be settled rather differently — one shouldn’t put down a book like this and immediately say to oneself, “It should have ended this way….”). These faults aside, Watchers is an impressive page-turner.

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