It’s rare that a bestselling author at any level in their career would tout one of their own works as “my favorite of all the books [I’ve] ever written.” And to do so when the novel has just been released is either the presumptuousness of the writer’s ego or a statement made from a place of exceptional confidence.
It’s safe to say that Innocence, Dean Koontz’ latest standalone novel, falls into the latter category by far. And Koontz is correct to be so confident. Koontz blends mystery, suspense, and deep insight into the inner workings of the human soul in a masterfully told story.
Addison Goodheart is an outsider who must hide his horrible disfigurement from the world lest he be brutally attacked and killed by those repulsed by his very appearance. Forced from home at the age of eight by a mother who spent a lifetime trying not to commit filicide against her own child, Addison finds refuge beneath the city with a strange but kind-hearted man afflicted by a very similar condition.
Gwyneth is a young woman who cannot stand to be touched in any way. She seems to harbor answers to the strangeness that Koontz sets forth here, but refuses to share them at critical junctures, creating dramatic tension and, sometimes, frustration for both Addison and the reader.
It’s inevitable that their paths cross, as when Addison saves Gwyneth from certain death at the hands of a sinister pursuer, and begins a conflicted romance in which he will not allow himself to be seen by her, and she cannot bear to come into contact with him.
Thrown together amidst a worldwide outbreak of a mysterious plague (which is secondary to the main story), the pair bonds to fight a common foe while picking their way through a romantic minefield. The bond between them runs much deeper than the tragedies that have scarred their respective lives. Something more than chance—and nothing less than destiny—has brought them together in a world whose hour of reckoning is upon them.
Innocence is, at its root, a story about the enduring character of the human spirit. And it also happens to be one of Koontz’s best works to date. It’s unusual to see that a novel is the clear culmination of a lifetime of work, and Innocence fits that bill in every way. Fans of his work will easily identify elements of earlier works (Odd Thomas, Watchers) and recognize parallels with other epic tales like Phantom of the Opera and Beauty and the Beast.
What Stephen King does with story development and characterization, Koontz does with language. He does not “dumb down” his story but, instead, invites his readers to work a little harder to grasp the complex supernatural elements introduced, and uses words many authors shy away from. This works in Koontz’s favor, as it provides a certain elegance to his writing that is missing from that of his peers. Told in a straightforward and economical style, Innocence is the measuring stick against which future supernatural stories will be compared.