I won't lie - I haven't read a Dean Koontz book that I've really liked since the mid '00s. The Face, Odd Thomas (and maybe the first of its many sequeI won't lie - I haven't read a Dean Koontz book that I've really liked since the mid '00s. The Face, Odd Thomas (and maybe the first of its many sequels) and Life Expectancy are among my favourite horror/thriller novels, and I have a similar fondness for the two current books in the indeterminately hiatus-ed Moonlight Bay trilogy, but there came a point in Mr Koontz's career shortly after those books were written when he kind of lost me. Still, occasionally I'll dip back in and try one of his newer works - mainly whenever there's a new Odd Thomas book out, because I live in hope of that series having a good ending, ditto Moonlight Bay if he ever actually writes the third one - but I chose to read 77 Shadow Street because it's a concept I've been wanting to read about for a long time. Books about 19th/20th century haunted mansions converted into modern apartment buildings are apparently so niche as to be virtually nonexistent, and after my Mum read it and reviewed it to me as "not bad", I picked it up.
I'd like to say that until the last thirty pages or so I had every intention of giving this book 3 stars. OK, it's not exactly the haunted house story I set out in search of - I won't give any spoilers, but I will tip the unwary that the horror here is of the sci-fi dystopia kind, and not remotely ghostly except for a few red herrings early on - but I was really enjoying the premise, even if I found the characters - heroes and villains alike - pretty equally unappealing. (This is a problem I've found with a number of recent Koontz books - the protagonist are long-suffering victims and complete angels to boot, while the antagonists are so completely, psychotically evil it's hard to believe that they're passing in normal society unnoticed. It can get a bit cloying, but it's not a fatal flaw if the plot is strong enough.) And it has to be said that in the plot and premise there is a lot to recommend this book, even if you do occasionally find yourself skimming over a self-righteous POV rant that's meant to either justify the hero or condemn the villain to the reader. (These rants are also eerily similar, given that the message is meant to be completely opposite.) All that being said, however, I'd just like to reiterate that there was a lot I enjoyed about this book, right up until the end.
But - the ending.(view spoiler)[ First, it fizzles out just as the most intense encounter between the surviving heroes and the monsters who are hunting them is starting to get interesting. Even besides that one scene, there are a lot of plot-lines left unresolved - what happened to the young security guard from Chapter 2, who was given at least as much back-story as some of the main characters, and who then simply left the building and was never heard from again? Ditto the politician who disappeared in Chapter 1, reappeared as a still-living victim of the Big Evil at the end, but was never mentioned again after he was found, let alone rescued? Why was so much made of the hit-man's desire to rape and murder two of the female residents - horrible, yes, but hammered home enough that it being dropped completely four-fifths of the way through the book and never mentioned again made all that uncomfortable talk about it seem pointless.
Building on that last point - it's obvious that there's never any real danger to the designated heroes (the two single mums and their kids, the ex-army man in particular) - long-term readers of Koontz know he simply won't allow anything bad to happen to characters he's so clearly invested in, taking a lot of the tension out of their scenes. The older characters - the lawyer, the retired cop, the two elderly sisters - have a bit more tension, even referring to themselves as expendable - and indeed only one of the four survives, which was quite sad, since by and large they were better developed than the younger characters the reader is meant to be rooting for.
Finally - there's some dodgy critical thinking by characters in various interludes throughout the novel, which I was able to overlook and just enjoy the story, but the finale really got me upset, and was the thing that made me want to dock one of the three stars I planned on giving. So, here's the thing - the hero doesn't believe in coincidence. So when he finds out that someone in the building has a tangential connection to the evil that's laid waste to the futuristic world outside, he simply can't accept that this man isn't, in truth, solely and directly responsible for all the evils in the world. So he kills him on the spot. The other heroes help him cover it up. He (suddenly, after zero flirtation or even interaction in the rest of the novel) marries one of the heroines, and her young son looks up to him for doing "the hardest right thing ever" in killing this guy. Then he spends several months stalking and killing any other people he thinks might also be involved. His decision to kill these people because "he doesn't believe in coincidence" is presented as totally justified and consequence-free. I'm sorry. I lost it at that point. (hide spoiler)]["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more