cover image Sole Survivor

Sole Survivor

Dean R. Koontz. Alfred A Knopf Inc, $25.95 (321pp) ISBN 978-0-679-42526-7

Koontz's last thriller, Intensity, delivered shocks like a stripped hot wire. Here, the insulation-the preaching about societal rot and spiritual redemption-is back on, thicker than ever. And that's too bad, because this tale is emblematic of how, in 15 years of bestsellers, Koontz has bridged the commercial gap between the occultism of Stephen King and the scientism of Michael Crichton. Like Crichton's Airframe (also from Knopf; Forecasts, Nov. 11), this novel focuses on the aftermath of an airline disaster, a crash that has apparently killed all on board and has ravaged the soul of L.A. crime reporter Joe Carpenter. A year after the crash, Joe, who lost his wife and two daughters, is a walking dead man. A visit to their graves wrenches his life around when he spots a black woman taking photos of the site and sees her set upon by thugs. Incredible events follow. Joe witnesses relatives of the crash victims commit senseless suicide, learns that the woman, a genetic scientist, was on the plane but miraculously survived, finds out that she is the quarry of a military-industrial cabal and gains hope that one of his daughters also may have survived. The secret behind the mayhem, which is delivered at breakneck speed, concerns a ""scientific"" breakthrough into ""mystical"" truth that Koontz presents like an absentminded professor. But if his science his bad, his soapboxing is worse-a merciless rant against moral turpitude-and his prose is ripe to the point of decay. Has Koontz ever met an adjective or adverb, metaphor or simile, that he hasn't liked? His sympathetic characters drown in the overwriting; his uplifting sentiments wither under the finger-wagging. Driven by author name, marketing and theme, this will sell big, but the sole survivor won't be the reader. 600,000 first printing; major ad/promo; Literary Guild main selection; simultaneous Random House audio and large print edition; author tour. (Feb.)