(This review first appeared on on August 17, 2009)

Put Dean Koontz’s new thriller Relentless on the top of your summer reading list, especially if you’re a writer or interested in the writing life. The protagonist in this fast and entertaining read is a bestselling author targeted by a malicious critic whose attacks go way beyond any writer’s worst nightmare. There are moments, especially in the first few chapters, where the reader feels Koontz is making reference—humorous or exaggerated though they may be—to experiences in his own writing career. The urge to muse over the possible parallels soon gets swept away by the novel’s surprising twists and turns.

Cullen Greenwich, Cubby to his friends, is a writer whose latest book has just been reviewed by critic Shearman Waxx. His agent assures him that Waxx’s review, although venomous, will put him in the land of literary who’s who and open new doors for Cubby. Unfortunately, when those doors open it’s not into greater publishing success. Waxx’s attack becomes literal rather than literary, as the critic invades Cubby’s home and targets his family. Cubby and his wife, with their young son and dog in tow, take flight and attempt to disappear from the critic’s radar, but nothing they do shakes the seemingly preternatural foe off their trail.

The typical parade of unique Koontz characters fill this novel’s pages, from Lassie, a “non-collie” and wiser than normal dog, to Cubby’s six-year old son Milo, a math and quantum physics genius, to Hud Jacklight, a literary agent whose successful promotion of authors is in direct proportion to his ignorance of their or anyone else’s literary works. Not so quirky though memorable, is Penny, Cubby’s wife, as strong a female character as any reader could hope for, equal in strength and complexity to her reluctant hero of a husband. It is actually the family working together that is the hero here and a nuclear family at that­, whereas Koontz’s usual tactic is to construct a family out of unrelated strangers.

The story’s events begin in reality, then melt seamlessly into the surreal. As Koontz does so well, the horrors are chilling on both levels. Those events, just on the edge of tipping into fantasy, could all too easily come true in today’s world. Tension ratchets up a notch every time the family discovers another clue behind Waxx’s reasons for hunting them down. Make this into a movie, slap Tom Hanks into the lead and Relentless could top the box office for several weeks. (Why some of Koontz’s novels aren’t made into feature films is a bigger mystery than The Da Vinci Code.)

It won’t take long to get through this compelling book, so you might want to have another on hand. Frankenstein: Dead and Alive, the third in the trilogy co-written with Ed Gormon and Kevin J. Anderson, is already on bookstore shelves. If that one doesn’t interest you, finding another new Koontz won’t take much effort: this is his third book so far in 2009, with three more slated for release this fall.

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