The Dean Koontz book that got me hooked on him was “The Watchers,” and the dog in that book, a brilliant golden retriever, thoroughly enchanted me. In “Devoted,” Koontz creates a dog, and then a network of dogs who — maybe, he hints — descend from that highly intelligent dog. And Kipp, the loyal golden, is the kind of dog every dog lover dreams of having — a dog who understands us completely and can communicate with us freely.
We meet Megan Bookman first. She is a widow of three years; her husband was killed in an accident that wasn’t entirely plausible. Her son, Woody, is autistic but high functioning. Woody has never spoken to Megan or anyone, but he reads voraciously and is exceptionally computer savvy. He has investigated his father’s death and believes he knows the truth, which he has written in a huge report that he has not shared with his mother or anyone else.
We also meet Kipp, the extraordinary dog whose companion, Dorothy, is on the brink of death. Kipp is bereft as he deeply loves Dorothy, who returns that love completely. Koontz romanticizes dogs, especially these special dogs, and he writes, “It was his nature to love beyond reason.” But those of us who have dogs and have experienced that love might agree that dogs do, indeed, love us beyond reason.
We also meet Lee Shacket, an evil man with absolutely no redeeming qualities. There is no gray in this story — the characters are either pure white, all goodness and morality, or they are pure evil with depraved sexual desires, violent tendencies, unabated greed, and a complete and utter disregard for any humane tendencies or compassion toward fellow man or beast. From top government officials to hired killers, the plethora of bad guys might seem numerous enough to require an army to vanquish.
But Koontz’ heroes include Megan Bookman and Ben Hawkins, the guy who rescues Kipp from a bad situation after Dorothy dies and Kipp sets out to find Woody, whose telepathic communications have been received by Kipp. Megan is the epitome of a wonderful mother and beautiful woman, artistic, graceful, and strong. She keeps a gun next to her bedside and practices with it monthly. Hawkins is a former SEAL, but he loves dogs and is kind and gentle.
There are no characters who straddle the chasm between the black and the white. They are either venal and amoral, or they are noble and moral. But that being said, the plot is suspenseful and filled with action. The action involves all the bad guys trying to kill the even-badder Lee Shacket, and also trying to kill Bookman and her son and anyone who gets in the way or who might know the truth about what is happening.
The suspense and tension build as Shacket acts upon his ever-growing depravity as he, after being exposed to an element that was being used in top-secret experiments about transhumanism, begins to devolve into something less than human, something beast-like. The violence he perpetrates upon his victims is, at times, for only the strong of stomach, and, at least at the start of the book, his focus is on Megan Bookman. The crooked sheriff and his inept deputies and despicable girlfriend/assistant sheriff are balanced by one deputy who is a holdover from the time of former, honorable sheriff, and is doing his best to protect the Bookman family.
So what can we say? The dogs make this a fabulous book. It’s no secret that Koontz and his wife are now on their third golden retriever from Canine Companions for Independence, an organization that trains dogs for multiple purposes, including as service dogs and facility dogs. Full transparency: I have one of CCI’s facility dogs, Miss Peanut, and while she is a golden retriever/Labrador retriever mix, she is as sweet and lovable as Kipp, albeit not even close to Kipp in matters of cerebral aptitude. Koontz has loved each of his goldens immensely, and in the books in which dogs appear, that love comes shining through. This book is no different.
Kipp and the doggy inhabitants of this Koontz otherworld are the dogs that we all wish really existed. They exist in our dreams and our innermost desires. And by reading “Devoted,” we can perhaps dream even more vividly.
We know that good will triumph over evil because that’s how Koontz operates. We know that the bad guys, or at least most of them, will die. We also know that the dogs will live on because, like us, Koontz cannot kill that innocent and beloved iteration of the creature that he loves so much. So even though the book is filled with precarious situations and much potential harm to the main characters, we trust that in the end, Koontz will make it all all right. And he does.
Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover book provided by the publisher, Thomas & Mercer (Amazon), for review purposes.