Order from

Dark Rivers of the Heart

Author: Dean Koontz
Published: 1994
Review by: CL6 Sorsha

A small amount of paranoia is normal. Healthy, even! If we didn't look under our beds, in our closets, and under the pile of laundry for boogeymen, we wouldn't be human. Some of us have even experienced that sudden "tingle" at the back of our necks when we think we're being watched. Most of us, however, pooh-pooh the idea of government conspiracies and major cover-ups. Yet even the most logical of beings will find themselves caught up in the psychological horror Koontz creates when he co-mingles the suppressed past of a computer whiz with a nameless, faceless government agency who will stop at nothing to find out what he knows. (Which for the first 300 pages is basically nothing!)

Spencer Grant is a mysterious figure with a gift for computer knowledge. Befriended only by an abused dog he adopted from the pound (another reason I like the man!), Grant has begun to systematically erase himself from all public record. Nightly he travels from bar to bar, confessing his past . . . or what little he remembers . . . to inebriated strangers who won't remember him in the morning. But the telling of his tale seems to purge his soul of an unknown guilt he harbors deep within. On one such evening he meets a waitress by the name of Valerie. Instead of telling her his tale, Grant feels a connection with her which leads to an emotional bond. When she doesn't show up for work the next night, Grant goes to her home to investigate and winds up in the middle of what appears to be a police raid. Knowing only that he wants to help Valerie through whatever trouble she's in, Grant begins a journey which will lead not only to the woman he loves, but danger and his blocked memory as well.

This novel is definitely for those who enjoy the concept of computer hacking and exposing government corruption. While many of the technical details of hacking are beyond my knowledge, I found myself not caring if the details were right or wrong. Koontz himself admits to "dummying down" the details, but in his afterword acknowledges that all of the know-how is already out there, and that many of the gadgets and technology used to track down our heroes exists.

The basis of the book is a government monster. The nameless agency which Koontz creates is funded by current and practiced asset-forfeiture laws in the United States. It's frightening to believe, but nevertheless true, that if the government even SUSPECTS you've been committing illegal acts on your property, they may seize not only the property, but your bank accounts, your cars, and even your personal mementos, and liquidate them. No need to convict you of anything--all they need is suspicion. (Yes, we really do have this law in our country. Are we screwed up, or what?) The horror lies in the fact that current theory suggests that the government may even be trumping up suspicions in order to keep up the cash flow, ruining the hard-earned lives of our best citizens.

While many science fiction fans love a good conspiracy theory, what some readers may find hard to swallow in this book is the connections that are made to realistic incidents being dragged into the mix, such as Waco and cult-leader David Koresh. If you hate Oliver Stone these theories will put even his supposings to shame. Yet, like Stone is able to do in "JFK," for just a moment (or a few pages) even the hardest of hearts has to briefly entertain the thought that Koontz's theory may hold just the tiniest bit of water.

Slow-moving and mired at first, Koontz is able to eventually draw us in to sympathy with tortured Grant, using flashbacks from his youth. After the first two, instinctively you know what's coming, especially if you've seen "Silence of the Lambs." (Possible influence?) Yet still we are intrigued by the horror Koontz manages to create in the man's past which brings his quest for peace of mind and his need for love, forgiveness, and acceptance full circle.