- The Taking
- Bantam Books, 464 pp.
The Omnipotent Hand of Retribution
Dean Koontz has always been a master of plot, dialogue, and description. His talents are such that he not only details, for his constant readers, the events as they unfold, he can, through his magic or, more precisely, through his gift, transport you there! And, in many instances you go delightfully immersed in trepidation and dread!
As gifted a writer as Koontz is he’s a better storyteller. The blood of the shaman and chronicler courses through his veins as he conjures up stories of decent people placed in terrible circumstances. Invariably these folks flee, not so much out of fear-though fear is present-but rather to gain time, to gain some help or advantage in which to defeat their seemingly omniscient enemy. His theme centers on the Grand Romance with its temptations, love, and the struggle against evil. If Koontz tells us anything it is that we are accountable for the choices we make, and one way or the other, the bill’s coming due.
As a student of his fellow man, Koontz’s protagonists are inevitably flawed though they usually arouse a certain sympathy. He continues that theme in his latest novel, The Taking, where Molly Sloan, a successful writer, has not only the dubious distinction of being the progeny of a child murderer but a person consumed by self doubt. However, she is much taken by the ethereal intellect of T.S. Eliot, and, quite frankly that counts for something. On the other hand his antagonists are depraved, possessed, alien, or just plain wicked but in The Taking they are EVIL! They are so horrible we’ll let Mr. Koontz provide the descriptions, not only of these grotesque beings, but also of their merciless acts, and ultimate purpose!
The story transpires over a few, short, hours. It is faced paced and dark. So dark in fact that it is reminiscent of M.R. James where “…men of letters unearthed terrors in such places as old churches and dusty libraries.” Koontz has placed Molly and her husband, Neil, in constant danger. Fear alone can overwhelm lesser folk, but Molly and Neil have sworn, not only true love, but also true allegiance, one to the other. They must overcome their fear with a courage that refuses “…to surrender to the course of taking fearful actions.”
Molly and Neil have guns whose utility is noted and they have the dogs whose actions bring doubts. But, Molly is moved to gather the children, to save them from the creatures that bound through the fog shrouded trees and from the hellish things whose ululations mimic the cry of man.
Dean Koontz knows we live in a world where evil delights in justifying itself, where materialism has become an end in itself, where the gray, half-light of moral ambiguity supercedes moral verities, and where mankind has turned its collective face away from God. As a result, the justice of the state has devolved into a mockery where murderers are sentenced to seven years imprisonment and pedophiles regularly have their depraved actions reduced to “gross sexual imposition,” and are soon enough back out on the street hunting the children. What will become of such a society?
The Taking brings into question the ultimate denouement of mankind. Koontz has lured us into a Kafkaesque world where the ominous presence of the authoritarian state has been replaced by omnipotent hand of retribution. He requires us to examine the condition of our kind and there is much to answer for.
Dean Koontz has always been an energetic practitioner of his craft. A self confessed “compulsive” writer, he has sold books by the carload to a receptive public without receiving his due as a literary figure. But, The Taking is by far his finest effort, a book with depth and intrinsic worth. He has challenged modernity’s contemptuous suggestion that the past and the transcendent have no meaning, that the philosophies of man: materialism, relativism, nihilism, empiricism, and “the hubris of technology,” have in any way served to strengthen the piety of our people.
He has, perhaps, grown fearful, of the decline and he might very well agree with the late Richard Weaver who wrote: “We approach a condition in which we shall be amoral without the capacity to perceive it and degraded without means to measure our descent.”
The Taking is classic literature and deserves a place on the bookshelf beside Orwell’s 1984, Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, and Berry’s Jayber Crow.