As indicated in a previous post of mine, Strange Highways is a story that I hold very close to my heart. At only 154 pages long and an easy read, it’s amazing how much this few-hour-read draws you in and keeps you in.
Renown thriller writing Dean Koontz really hit it out of the park with this one.
Synopsis (pulled from Wiki): A failed author returns to his hometown after many years to attend his father’s funeral, only to find himself suddenly and inexplicably thrust back through time to relive a traumatic event from his past, and possibly to find redemption. In the introduction, Koontz lists the Centralia, Pennsylvania mine fire as an inspiration for this story.
I first read this story back in 1999. My High School’s summer reading list allowed us to choose 5 novels and my father just happened to own this one. Being someone who loved thriller movies, I decided to give this a whirl, heck it couldn’t be any worse than ‘When Legends Die’ off of the previous years reading list… right?
Famous last words aside, at first, this book seemed reminiscent of the average Stephen King novel. A failed, alcoholic writer who was down on his luck. The first few chapters are depressing and dreary, but the erratic behavior of the lead character keeps you hooked just enough to want to find out what pushes him to behave the way he does. The payoff is well worth the wait.
As the rain begins to fall after the main character, Joey’s final farewell to his father, the action picks up. The man is given the opportunity to re-live a pivotal moment in his life. He has to choose between taking the road he took before, which is a safe, but petty and insignificant existence, or take the road he had decided to avoid years ago that would lead him into danger. If he goes down that path, Joey will have to confront someone close to him that is nothing short of true evil and save an innocent and pleasantly mysterious character.
I will stop right there as I really don’t want to give too much away. So I will give the pros and cons of this story.
Pros: The story hooks you within the first few pages. It is short, but action packed. There are several moments in the story that make the hair stand up on the back of your neck. The imagery and the sense of urgency is well done. The main character is relatable and the heroine is mysterious to a level that you never know where she stands or what her motivations are until the very end. You feel like you have to keep an eye on her throughout most of the read. The ending is very well done, ties everything together and is extremely satisfying.
Cons: There is a supernatural element to this story that is never fully fleshed out or explained. You find out why Joey is given a second chance and why he is the way he is. However, while it’s alluded that the supernatural element is religious in origin, it is never explained and really has the feel of a… for complete lack of a better term Deus Ex Machina.
Overall Analysis: I love this story. It is my favorite of all time and that is saying a lot. It’s short, but well-paced and very well done. It has one of two major flaws, but they add some mystery to the story and do not detract from it at all. Truly a wonderful read for those who like action/fantasy/religious philosophy/thriller.
My hat goes off to Dean Koontz on this one.