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Author: Dean R. Koontz
Published: 1984
Review by: CL6 Sorsha

Jack Dawson is a New York City Homicide Detective. He and his hard-nosed partner, Recebba Chandler, are investigating a string of bizarre murders of those involved in a drug-trafficking Mafia family. Whats' so bizarre? Other than the fact that all the victims appear to be behind impenetrable locked-doors, they also seem to have been either chewed to death by trained animals or stabbed to death hundreds of times by a pen-knife. Suddenly an astonishing fact comes to life. This is no ordinary gang war as first thought. Dawson has stumbled upon one of the strangest leads in his career - A Voodoo Bocor (or evil priest.)

Voodoo incorporates ideas and talismans from most of the known religions in our world. While many consider it pagan with its charms, spells, incantations, and snakes (don't forget those!), it follows closely on the heels of Witchcraft and Satanism in its level of fear-raising. What a perfect topic for a horror novel! its taboo-esque nature is both repelling and attractive to most who enjoy the occult.

The extent of my knowledge of Voodoo is severely limited to the reading of the "Ruby" series by V.C. Andrews and James Bond movies. Despite that, I had little difficulty grasping the necessary concepts. Koontz has had to spend considerable time researching the topic in order to quickly educate his readers on a subject which is not only considered to be one of the scariest religions in the world, but also the most mystifying. One of the things this novel does well is give a clear and succinct lesson on some of the practives and beliefs of Voodoo. Have no illusions that these lessons are complete, but they are sufficient to understand later elements of the novel which are so crucial.

Most important to the novel is understanding the difference between RADA (benevolent), CONGO (evil), and PETRO (evil), the three spiritual divisions within the religion. These easy lessons come in the form of an intriguing character by the name of Carver Hampton, a Houngon (or benevolent priest) and a shopkeeper of Rada ceremonial items. Initially he refuses help to Jack Dawson against the powerful Bocor; eventually he is forced into assisting Dawson. This struggle between guilt and responsibility makes this character who appears only twice in the novel a powerful force despite limited "page time."

What became difficult to adjust to was an abrupt switch within the novel. For the first half of the book, the only witnesses we get accounts from regarding the murders are Penny, Jack's daughter, and a drug trafficker who is killed in front of us. New York City denizens have a natural predisposition to hating rats. Koontz feeds off that fear (what I call "Alligators in the Sewers" syndrome) and leads us to believe that we're dealing with some type of mutant rat. Penny literally has a confrontation with a hoarde of mutant rats. Suddenly they no longer look like mutant rats and take on bodies that are sometimes not even distinguishable as any know creatures. Once Jack and Rebecca actually see the creatures, I began to feel somewhat jipped...as if I was suddenly presented with a character who had never been in the mystery until the moment of solution.

Overall, this is MORE of what a horror novel should be. We have a likable hero and a believable romantic entanglement that is not suffocating to the plot. The two children present a sufficient motivating force to prevent Armageddon, and the Bocor and Houngon present a strong adversary and ally for Dawson to work against/with. The reading is quick with few words to trip up your average reader, and the lessons in Voodoo are neatly presented so as not to bog down the pace of the novel. While perhaps still not the "perfect" horror novel, Koontz comes closer to the mark with this attempt.