Prodigal Son (Dean Koontz's Frankenstein S.)
by Dean Koontz
Review by John Berlyne
HarperCollins Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 0007203136
Date: 11 April, 2005 List Price £5.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
I have a weakness for modern day re-workings of genre classics. There's something about a new twist or extrapolation of a well-known plot line that really appeals to me. It is for this reason I am particularly drawn to the work of Kim Newman who has taken Bram Stoker's Dracula far beyond the originator's vision with his Anno Dracula sequence. It's hard to know whether Stoker would approve, but my guess is he'd be flattered as hell! (Newman, by the way has given this treatment to other classic stories too ? one of my all time favourite short stories is one of his, "A Drug on the Market", which explores what might have happened if Dr Jekyll's famous potion had got into the hands of wily Victorian entrepreneurs - if you?re interested (and you should be!) you'll find this one in Dark Terrors 6 published by Gollancz in 2003.)
Mary Shelly too might well be chuffed to know that her story of mad scientist and Modern Prometheus has also inspired further adventures. Only last year I had the pleasure of reviewing Gary Greenwood's highly enjoyable PS Publishing novella, Jigsaw Men, which told of a British Empire built upon an army of Frankenstein's monsters. And now one of horror's most prolific and successful writers Dean Koontz has teamed up with Kevin J. Anderson to give us the modestly titled Dean Koontz's Frankenstein. It not hard to see who gets top billing here and to give you a clue, it ain?t the monster!
The first thing Koontz reveals is that this is a novel version of a made for TV movie script that he had been developing. At some point in the process he removed his name from the project and retained the right to develop his characters on his own. A little net search reveals that the movie was eventually made, but it's unclear what official links Koontz still has to the project. The IMDB for example, lists the author as one of the film's executive producers, but the book itself makes no mention of the film other than in the author's introduction.
Though links may have been legally severed between Koontz and his TV project, the resulting novel retains the feel of the format in delivering a gripping, if two-dimensionally shallow story. The monster of the Shelly story has somehow survived to the present day and under his adopted name of Deucalion, he's been hiding himself away for a few decades in the spiritual sauna of a Tibetan monastery. That he should be drawn to Buddhism is a nice touch given that a main theological theme of Shelly's original story examined whether such a creature could be in possession of a soul. In spite of this solitude, a letter arrives for our monster that causes him to immediately pack his bags and leave for New Orleans--it contains news that suggests that his old dad, Victor, is also alive and up to his tricks once more.
Down in Louisiana there have been some nasty things a-goin'-on! There's a serial killer on the loose, maybe even two (!!!) and Detective Catherine Carson--hard on the outside, but soft, squishy and needy within, together with her partner, wise crackin' Detective Maddison (secretly in love with her) are following the trail of bodies. Their lives are carved out for us in relief by Koontz (and, one must presume, Anderson, though his presence here is much diminished) as is that of arch baddie Victor--my real name is Frankenstein, but of course, nobody's guessed that yet - and one or two of his recent creations. Victor is out to - naturally - take over the world with his legion of reanimated body parts and, given that he has modern technology to hand, there's actually a chance that he might do it if allowed to continue unchecked. As the plot unravels, it soon becomes clear that serial killer and monster maker are connected (though without spoiling I can tell you that they are not one and the same) and we learn a little more of Victor's recent history through the eyes of a couple of minor characters. The endgame in the short term is to solve the murders and apprehend the killer(s) and that is where this episode ends, leaving Victor and his number one monster to face each other perhaps same time next week?
That this novel's basic plot can be summarized in two paragraphs shows the shallowness of it's roots, but it doesn't suffer too badly in the process. Told in short, rapid fire chapters, Koontz gives the viewers, er sorry, that should be readers exactly what they want--a bit of sex, some gory violence, really BAD bad guys, hard drinking, hard talking cops with hearts of gold, et cetera. The result is great holiday read--one that people who don't read much will successfully plough through on the beach. Such readers won't be disappointed either with this easily digestible, easily enjoyable, schlocky horror thriller. Those who look for something more testing in their reading will not be taxed by this novel in the least, but chances are they'll enjoy it too. However they may also feel that this dumbing-down of Shelly's classic would not sit well with the authoress--but I'm not really sure that matters!
Sequels are contracted and I look forward to reading them (probably in one sitting) on my next long haul flight.