Category Archives: book review

The Doctor, The Dialogue, and Dean Koontz

“The pilgrim, having passed the Bridge, arrives at the door which is part of the Bridge, at which all must enter, wherefore He says—‘I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, he who follows Me does not walk in darkness, but in light. And in another place My Truth says, ‘ That no man can come to Me if not by Him,’ and so indeed it is. Therefore He says of Himself that He is the Road, and this is the truth, and I have already shewn thee that He is a Road in the form of the Bridge.”   The Dialogue of the Seraphic Virgin, Catherine of Siena: Dictated by Her, While in a State of Ecstasy, to Her Secretaries, and Completed in the Year of Our Lord 1370

Sr. Theresa Aletheia Noble has provided insightful reasons for Catholics and non-Catholics alike to embrace the practice of “memento mori.”   Many spiritual classics encourage us to keep ever mindful that our paths all lead to one place–to death, to God, to our final judgment.  In a world that has long valued health, fame and fortune, perfection in anything but the spiritual life, the practice of remembering one’s death, one’s judgment before Christ, will always be a challenge.

I struggle with the fear of death, both my own and my loved ones, but God granted me my husband John, now a Third Order Carmelite, whose strong faith enhanced by the extreme medical challenges from his genetic disorder, Marfan syndrome, has allowed me to understand and embrace my mortality through my Catholic faith.  

Are there days when I falter and allow fear to overcome me?  Yes, just about every day. But thanks to God for bringing John into my life, I have slowly come to a better understanding of how to climb the ladder of theosis, to dialogue with God, to explore my interior castle, and embrace the Little Way.  So many times, Christ delights me in the amusing ways He brings my interests together in my life to remind me to get back to the path that leads to Him.

Recently, John chose a book he has owned for years, entitled Praying with Catherine of Siena, by Patricia Mary Vinje, for our family Bible study and saint study.  St. Catherine is a doctor of the Church, a title given for the insights into the Faith she provided in her life and writings.  I just happened to be in the middle of reading The Silent Corner and The Whispering Room by Dean Koontz when we started the studies.  I confess I pouted about being interrupted in the midst of the thrillers when God suddenly reminded me that His Way is the only way, and that He loves irony.

I sat down with the family, and we began reading. Each chapter takes an image from St. Catherine’s Dialogue as a means of meditation and contemplation.  The first one we came to was the “inner cell.” As we pondered the life of St. Catherine who had chosen a cell for her prayer life and was called from there by God to take on politicians who were corrupting Christ’s teachings, and adjure the Pope to go back to Rome, the higher meaning of Koontz’s new series dawned on me.  

Every one of Dean Koontz’s books I have read (most of them published since 2000, the year of his reversion to Catholicism) have made me marvel, laugh at the absurdity of humanity’s pride, be filled with proper fear, squirm in my sinfulness, and repent. His work is a true horror, meant to entertain, yes, but also to bring the reader to reconciliation with God.  And he does provide some great laughs along the way–a skilled mixture of bathos and pathos. Drawing from Flannery O’Connor’s discussion of Biblical exegesis applied to literature in her essay “The Nature and Aim of Fiction,” every one of his books can be considered literally, allegorically, typologically, and anagogically. His new Jane Hawk series is no exception.  

As we read excerpts from St. Catherine’s Dialogue, my mind reeled with the understanding that Koontz’s “silent corner” is a synonym for the “inner cell.”  Thus began the revelation of the higher meanings of The Silent Corner that I would never have learned if I had tried to bow out of the saint study.  (Pray for me.)   With that realization of the parallels between St. Catherine’s Dialogue and the names and imagery in Koontz’s Jane Hawk series, I continued to find the gems of allusion he had used from Catherine’s spiritual work and incorporated into his fictional yet spiritual masterpieces.

I don’t want to give too many spoilers in my brief analysis, but I would like to provide a few key points.  In her Dialogue, St. Catherine of Siena refers to Christ as the Bridge, and she refers to the importance of having an inner cell of the soul recollected to God, essentially a “silent corner.” In the Jane Hawk series, Jane has a son named “Travis,” which means “bridge.”   The name “Jane” means ” God is gracious” and one of the meanings of the name “Hawk” is “nook” or “corner,” so, her name blended could be construed as “God’s gracious corner.” Catherine in her Dialogue refers to the sin of the world as a “river.” So, extending the imagery, Jane as the soul recollected to God’s grace can use her focus on Christ as the Bridge (Travis) who has overcome the river of sin.  Every hotel room (silent corner, inner cell) she stays in as she pursues and is pursued by the enemy, she considers her actions and inspiration (Holy Spirit) as a means to return to her son and honor his father (so, the Trinity). In that sense, Jane could be the Blessed Mother, God’s full of grace corner.  Dean Koontz made Our Lady a rogue FBI agent! Or, taken another way, Jane is Catherine herself, a soul recollected to Christ, who took on the powers that be to bring them to repentance and to bring them to Christ.

As a final insight, in St. Catherine’s Dialogue she describes the Body of Christ as the staircase to Heaven…the next Jane Hawk novel is The Crooked Staircase...and the fourth novel in the series is The Forbidden Door, yet another reference to Christ in Catherine’s Dialogue.  I can only guess what images will be taken for the fifth, sixth, and seventh books in the series. 

So, if you were looking for a unique way to practice “memento mori,” I suggest reading The Dialogue of St. Catherine and Dean Koontz’s Jane Hawk series.  All of his books since 2000 can be considered a type of “memento mori,” as he encourages us readers to see our good deeds in the work of the heroes and heroines, but also to see our sins in those of the villains, and thus consider our final judgment, all the while providing suspenseful, amusing, inspiring, sobering, and terrifying fiction.

 

—Mary Hathaway

stcatherineofsiena

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THE WHISPERING ROOM Review

(My wife, Mary Hathaway, was given a free e advanced reader copy of THE WHISPERING ROOM, by Dean Koontz, but due to health and other issues, she could not finish the novel until now.  This is written from her point of view and shared on Amazon as well. The links go to Amazon, but we are NOT getting any money for it.  You can find the books elsewhere and even some are free for download.  They just enrich the meaning if you have read them.)

Many read Dean Koontz for his horror and suspense. I read him because he makes me laugh, brings me hope in our very fallen world, and his plot twists and character development serve as an amazing examination of conscience, one that usually leaves me squirming and landing on my knees in repentance. The higher, anagogical meaning is what I look for and am never disappointed.

In her essay “The Nature and Aim of Fiction,” found in the collection, Mystery and Manners, Flannery O’Connor writes, “I think the way to read a book is always to see what happens, but in a good novel, more always happens than we are able to take in at once, more happens than meets the eye. The mind is led on by what it sees into the greater depths that the book’s symbols naturally suggest. This is what is meant when critics say that a novel operates on several levels. The truer the symbol, the deeper it leads you, the more meaning it opens up.”

O’Connor could have been predicting the work of one of her biggest fans, Dean Koontz, in this essay. He may be known as the “Master of Suspense,” and aptly so, but it’s his use of symbols and their anagogical meaning that has me pondering his works long after I finish them and brings me back to them again. The “suspense” of what happens after earthly life is what he wants his readers to consider and I do, with every novel of his I have read.

THE WHISPERING ROOM, the second novel in what is promised to be a 7-book series features the intrepid and determined Jane Hawk, a rogue FBI agent on the run, investigating a series of deaths while attempting to guard herself and those she loves against the unseen enemies. Having been startled, enthralled and moved to tears by the end of THE SILENT CORNER, the first book in the series, I was anxious to see where Mrs. Hawk would land next in her quest to bring justice for her husband and safety for her son and others imperiled by “them.”

While THE SILENT CORNER is meticulously crafted to introduce the Jane Hawk universe, THE WHISPERING ROOM immediately draws the reader into an intimate scene of the slowly unveiling iniquitous underground. The pace is fast and the mood sinister. Jane’s quest for justice introduces her to some of the most foul and disgusting people one can imagine, as well as some of the bravest and kind. One’s conscience is pricked and left mourning for evil and its web in which we are all entangled. Its end left me puzzling and wondering where Jane was headed next in the quest for justice, an answer that is coming in May 2018, in THE CROOKED STAIRCASE. If you have not read The Silent Corner: A Novel of Suspense yet, I strongly recommend reading it first and then reading the sequel, THE WHISPERING ROOM.

I also suggest reading T.S. Eliot’s Collected Poems, 1909-1962 or read this excellent analysis of “The Hollow Men,”  as well as reading Flannery O’Connor’s The Complete Stories (FSG Classics). A look at CS Lewis and his book The Four Loves will also provide more insight into the deeper meaning of the fantastic Jane Hawk series and the other works of Dean Koontz.

In closing, I would strongly recommend reading a novel by his apprentice of sorts, Frank RedmanELIJAH: A Suspense Novel and reading Redman’s publisher web site for his Koontz story.   Redman’s influence on Koontz’s writing and his life cannot be exaggerated, as once again, Redman’s integrity, bravery, faith, and health battle are featured in the Jane Hawk series, hidden in the characters’ names, words and actions, just as he served as the inspiration for ASHLEY BELL.

Like most adults, my spare time is limited, so I can cover all my reading needs in one of Koontz’s amazing novels– a spiritual work, a fantastic suspense, a deep romance, a political critique, a futuristic sci-fi thriller, and an examination of conscience, all in one incredible work of art.

quote from THE FOUR LOVES

“Humankind cannot bear very much reality” Frank Redman’s ELIJAH

I don’t know exactly where to begin this review, which angle to take. I’m reeling. My wife and teenager have been commending Frank Redman‘s  ELIJAH: A SUSPENSE NOVEL to me for weeks now, and I finally read it. In short, I can say it was amazing, entertaining, chilling, and a punch in the gut in ways for which I was not prepared.  Apparently, I am not alone in this regard.  My wife remarked to me that with the internet’s instant access to so much information, when one writes about a book, a review is not sufficient.  Rather, an encounter would better describe it, where one meets the author, reads the background and influences, and embraces the story and its characters.  It certainly is true for our experience with Frank Redman and ELIJAH.

Frank Redman is a brand new author, whose own journey in the writing profession sounds like something out of a movie.  It’s his debut book, so I was thinking it might be something like early C.S. Lewis with a few twists in the manner of Dean Koontz, but it’s that and more.

By the time I got to the end of ELIJAH, I’d say it’s better than the early C.S. Lewis. This story has the mystique, chilling suspense, and humor of a Christian “Twin Peaks” or a more tightly written THAT HIDEOUS STRENGTH.   It takes you into levels of evil that many of us would rather not know at all, but far too many people actually live through. Many writers depict such evil and either glorify it or give it a worldly punishment, but few provide a sense of hope that there is something better, that victims can still find happiness and holiness. Frank Redman is one of those few writers, and ELIJAH  is a book with a message that needs to be read.

St. Augustine says a work of perfect logic may be true but if it’s boring to read, it won’t do any good, and people are more willing to read and believe something that’s eloquent. The same is true of literature and movies: it doesn’t matter how true it is or how artistically “well crafted” it is. If it doesn’t draw people in, nobody will read it. HAMLET may have psychological and moral depth, but it’s basically a story about murder, ghosts and revenge.   ELIJAH has it all.  It immediately drew me in with the supernatural and suspense, has great depth in the character’s dealings with his horrid past, as well as fantastically funny insights with well-crafted characters who open your eyes to the devastating horrors that are hidden in daily life.   The reality of evil is tangible, but it’s tempered with hope and perseverance.


At times, the story of an author can sometimes be as compelling as the book the author wrote. This can be an advantage in attracting readers, as it is what led us to Frank Redman and ELIJAH. My wife and I both became Dean Koontz fans a little over a year ago. She noticed that Koontz has referred a few times to his friend Frank Redman (he dedicated SAINT ODD to him and said Frank’s struggle with brain cancer inspired ASHLEY BELL).

This book is dedicated to Frank Redman, who has more than once reminded me of Odd Thomas

Through a series of events that I’ll leave Frank Redman to tell, he began a mentorship with Dean Koontz.  Koontz had read some of his writing, saw potential, and agreed to mentor Frank. Then, on the same day that I had my descending aorta surgery, Frank was diagnosed with an extremely rare and extremely lethal brain cancer–most people diagnosed with it are only diagnosed with it posthumously, and if they are diagnosed while alive, they die in days or weeks. Frank is still alive nearly 4 years later.  So, with a sense of urgency, I set aside the few dozen “in progress” books I’ve been working on reading for years to read ELIJAH, reading late into the night, and enjoying it more and more with each swipe of the screen.


People don’t want to acknowledge the reality or enormity of Evil in the world.  It’s often hidden, and when it’s revealed, it can be nauseating, horrifying, and seemingly unfathomable.  The desire to stick one’s head in the sand is understandable, but unadvised.  Even less do people want to acknowledge the reality and enormity of God’s grace.  Redman’s ELIJAH addresses both supernatural phenomenon and their implications in our reality, in an engaging, fast-paced, thriller that will leave you reeling and pondering for weeks.

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