Dean Koontz's 77 SHADOW STREET is not an easy book to describe. On the one hand, it's a fairly familiar haunted house tale in which generations of residents at a posh Victorian mansion are sucked into a terrible nightmare. On the other hand, it's Koontz's little jab at the modern world, which he sees as disintegrating around us, leaving us unprepared to combat the ultimate forces of evil. The house itself, once called Belle Vista and now the Pendleton, happens to have been constructed on something Koontz calls a "space-time trapdoor," which opens every 38 years to suck in the hapless people unlucky enough to be in the vicinity. This can be scary, if a bit derivative (you'll be reminded of THE SHINING, 1408, THE MIST, and even the TV series AMERICAN HORROR STORY). There's an evil presence called "One" (who wants ultimate dominion), and another called "Witness" (who will help him achieve it). There are creepy creatures galore, and a few really grotesque happenings. But somehow the novel didn't work for me.
The biggest problem with 77 SHADOW STREET is the way Koontz tells his story. There is a huge cast of characters, which are introduced slowly over the first half of the book through a series of vignettes told from differing perspectives. At first it's difficult to keep track of all of them; it's also difficult to get very attached to any of them. Devon Murphy is a security guard still mourning the loss of his mother, Bailey Hawkes is an ex-marine investment counselor, Silas Kinsley is a retired litigation attorney who finds himself researching the history of the Pendleton, Twyla Trahern is a country music composer with a precocious 8-year-old son, Mikey Dime is a hit man with psychopathic tendencies, the Cupp sisters are octogenarian cake-bakers, Sparkle Sykes is writer with an autistic daughter - the list honestly goes on and on (and I haven't even mentioned the characters from past generations of Pendleton residents). It's not that these characters aren't interesting - some of them are. It's just that there are so many of them, and the story jumps from one to the other in little mini-chapters which never allow the reader to become really invested in any of them. This makes it hard to care all that much what happens to them when things go crazy at horror house.
Additionally, there is an amazing lack of dialogue in this novel. For almost the entire first half, Koontz's many characters are isolated from each other, each in his/her own apartment. The story unfolds from their many perspectives, with Koontz telling us what's happening, describing events, even summarizing conversations that we never actually get to hear. It's an odd way of telling a story, especially with so many characters involved. It leaves us, as readers, distanced from the core of the action, and kept separated from the characters we're supposed to root for.
Ultimately, Koontz's story is interesting, and I can't say the book isn't worth reading. I grew tired of it, however, which isn't what I expected from a Dean Koontz thriller. And by the end, I wasn't invested enough in any of the characters to really care why all this was happening and what we were supposed to learn from it. "This world," one character says, "is a dark place, and hard." That much comes through very clearly in 77 SHADOW STREET. I was disappointed, however. Two stars for the novel; the additional one is for Mr. Koontz, whose books I have loved for decades. I will always be a fan.