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Breathless with anticipation

BY REBECCA KOONS | DECEMBER 03, 2009 7:30 AM

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I sat down with Dean Koontz’s latest novel, Breathless, after having heard many a guilt trip because I had never explored his terrain. This kind of pressure led me to believe that I was in for something spectacular, among the likes of which I’d never read or would ever read again.

But Breathless, while an intriguing read, never quite finds itself capable of tying all of its many loose ends together. After eagerly reading through 337 pages full of captivating twists and turns, I felt a bit let down with a conclusion that seemed to put out the flame of my absorption.

The novel consists of the separate lives of several characters. The two heroes of Breathless are Grady Adams, a furniture maker who lives with his dog, Merlin, and Cammy Rivers, a 30-something veterinarian who has dedicated her life to saving those who can’t save themselves. It seems that Rivers’ traumatic personal history may have affected her career choice — she was once a child in a helpless living situation.

Adams encounters two unidentifiable beings, later named Puzzle and Riddle, that astound every human and animal they encounter. It becomes the duty of Adams and Rivers to make sure these creatures are kept out of harm’s way. When Adams presents the creatures to Rivers for evaluation, the two protagonists begin their friendship.

However, we never quite learn the fate of Puzzle and Riddle, which is one big reason that kept me turning the pages. This, among other unanswered questions, will probably drive a few readers nuts, because this strong level of curiosity propels the story and allows the readers to immerse themselves in the story.

Other “main” characters of Breathless, while attention-grabbing in their own right, don’t ever seem to make the meaningful connection to the central plot that I had anticipated. Resident criminal Henry Rouvroy offers up a good portion of the suspense in Breathless, yet simultaneously spends his time wondering if someone is out for revenge, only to find nil. A gambler who is well-versed in chaos theory, Lamar Woolsey, seems anything but relevant until the story is nearing the very end.

His placement is almost too convenient and not clever enough to warrant much of an “Aha” response.

Breathless, despite plot-related shortcomings, does tell an entertaining story. The wonderment of Puzzle and Riddle are enough to inspire what-if thoughts about what else is really “out there.” The chemistry between Adams and Rivers is something that could almost create its own spin-off novel, but they decide to keep any feelings at bay. Some ne’er do wells hold up a mirror to the human condition. These people who can be outwardly offensive actually carry incredible emotional depth, which Koontz unfortunately seems to only skim the top of.

He is a master of detail and imagery and paints numerous remarkable scenes in Breathless. He puts phrases together in such a way that readers believe what he writes, no matter how outlandish it may seem, and he gives his characters real voices, which only serves to enhance the effect of the story.

Readers are forced to draw their own conclusions, though, despite the vivid visual descriptions. Breathless leaves too many questions unanswered to be considered a satisfying suspense novel.


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