Dean Koontz is probably one of the five most famous authors in America, and his legion of fans speaks to his ability to tap into some thread of humanity and for that, he should be praised. People who hate Dean Koontz like to act as though he can’t string words together into a sentence, but you don’t sell millions of books on hype and marketing alone. Whatever it is about Koontz that makes him successful, Phantoms is one of the books that launched him into the stratosphere. But while Koontz has an undeniable appeal to some people, I am not really one of them. It doesn’t help that I have heard him lament the success of Phantoms because it transformed him into a horror writer when he really wanted to work on thrillers and mysteries. I am sure the thousands of published authors who maintain a full time job just to eat feel his pain.
I think the success of Phantoms can be traced to what is a truly brilliant premise. A woman picks up her sister at the airport. Upon returning to the small mountain town in which she lives, they find it eerily quiet and deserted. Every single person has vanished. We soon discover that an ancient entity, older than the dinosaurs, has come to this sleepy little hamlet to feast, as it does every few thousand years.
Now that is a great premise. I would kill to have thought of it, and frankly, the premise is enough to get you through the entire book. But pretty much everything else fails. The plotting is erratic, the characters underdeveloped, the dialogue trite and unbelievable. I think my least favorite character is the leader of a biker gang—who also happens to be a Satanist—who makes the bikers in the original Dawn of the Dead look like reasonable and serious portrayals.
For what it is, Phantoms serves its purpose. It’s not like I didn’t finish it. Just don’t expect much more than a great premise, and you should be fine.