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Onyx reviews: From the Corner of His Eye by Dean Koontz

From the earliest pages of From the Corner of His Eye, Dean Koontz does not let his readers forget that this novel has Biblical Significance. He wields his allegorical club mercilessly. He burdens his characters with names like Enoch, Jacob, Celestina and Seraphim. So relentless is it that one of the characters comments upon the birth of a Mary that "It's time for a nice, ordinary name in this family."

Bartholemew Lampion is born after a car accident in which his father is killed. His mother, Agnes, dies on the delivery table, but is brought back to life by the medical staff. Barty is no ordinary child—he is a prodigy in everything he does. He is also aware of all of the different versions of himself in the infinite parallel realities created each time human existence reaches a decision point.

In another city, Seraphim White dies giving birth to her daughter, Angel, the product of a sexual assault. The lives of Angel and Barty will be forever intertwined by the strange events surrounding their respective births.

Enoch Cain, Jr., known as Junior, is the story's villain. Hopelessly sociopathic, he wanders through his life driven by a series of primal urges and delusions. He is charismatic and vain, but not nearly as attractive as he thinks he is. He thinks every woman he meets would sleep with him in a heartbeat.

Junior was married and—in his mind at least—in love with Naomi but her unexpected death (in perhaps the best chapter of the novel, which has a twist so shocking that it will leave readers stunned) brings him to the attention of a magical detective and former priest named Thomas Vanadium. Vanadium is sure that Junior was responsible for Naomi's death and is determined to bring him to justice. He unwittingly plants a seed in Junior's mind by mentioning a name from Cain's dreams: Bartholomew.

That name becomes Junior's obsession. He believes he is going to be ultimately undone by someone named Bartholomew. He spends weeks poring through San Francisco phone directories trying to find people with that name; ready like Herod to eliminate all to make sure he gets the right one. This fixation will consume him for the rest of his days.

Junior Cain is another in a long line of over-the-top Koontz villains. He is a cold-blooded murderer, but each time he kills he suffers a disabling affliction: violent nausea, profound diarrhea, debilitating boils. He leaves a long trail of bodies in his wake during his misguided search for Bartholomew. The relentless Vanadium—the most interesting character in the book, who Junior believes to be a phantom—perpetually haunts him. The final confrontation, however, after nearly six hundred pages of build-up, is rushed and unsatisfyingly simplistic.

No one in this novel is anywhere near average. Characters are either paradigms of good or epitomes of evil. They don't have quirks, they have manias, like Agnes' two brothers (Jacob and Edom) who were so traumatized by their father that they are agoraphobes, only comfortable talking about the numbers of casualties in historical disasters (manmade and natural, respectively). Paul Damascus, distraught at the death of his polio-stricken wife, becomes a compulsive walker.

Koontz seems to want his readers to think that these are real people in slightly abnormal circumstances. The story and characters are cartoonish, though, with superheroes and supervillains. The book would also have been well served by a merciless editor who would slice away about one third of the padded story. That might have given Koontz space to devote to the climax and resolution of the novel.

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