Rating: 4 out of 5
When I read a book by Dean Koontz, I never know what I’m going to get. I’ve given books of his anywhere from a 5-out-of-5 to a 2-out-of-5. Thankfully Velocity: A Novel was a good one. I resisted getting it for a while because let’s face it, “Velocity” sounds… bland and meaningless. But I had a coupon for a discount on a Dean Koontz book and decided to give this one a try. I’m glad I did.
Billy Wiley is a bartender. He keeps things mellow, and spends some of his off hours looking after his fiancee, Barbara, who’s been in a coma for several years. One day he leaves work to find a piece of paper on his windshield. It says that if Billy calls the the police, the writer will kill an elderly woman. If he doesn’t call the police, the writer will kill a lovely schoolteacher. Billy takes the letter to Lanny, a deputy who’s also the closest thing he has to a friend. Lanny tells him it’s a prank and to ignore it. When of course there’s a killing that matches the letter writer’s description, and a second note shows up on Billy’s windshield, everything goes to hell. Lanny is desperate to keep the Sheriff’s department from finding out he didn’t take the first letter seriously, and Billy is conflicted about his latest choice. He also had a particularly bad experience as a teenager that made him extremely wary of the police, and he knows the Sheriff–with whom he has a history–will try to pin the killings on him.
One minor detail, just because I have to get it out of my system. Of course there’s a young, beautiful woman, a waitress, who is described as “genuinely unaware that she was the essential male fantasy in the flesh.” This is a really bad stereotype that upholds the idea that it’s somehow wrong for women to understand that they are attractive. That this makes them somehow impure or “less than.” And it sucks. Anyway. Moving right along.
For some reason the serial killer has targeted Billy–but so far he doesn’t seem interested in killing him. Instead he wants to put on some sort of performance in which Billy is forced to choose who lives and who dies–and end up looking very guilty. He starts cleaning up bodies to keep the sheriff from darkening his door. Things get planted in his house. (I do wonder how the killer was able to go so freely in and out of all sorts of locked doors, both home and vehicle–we never really find out.) Billy becomes convinced that the end goal of the killer is to kill Barbara (slowly) and drive Billy to suicide. But things may not be that straightforward.
The beginning of the book, which takes place in the bar Billy works at, has a touch of whimsy reminiscent of Odd Thomas, but things get more hard-nosed pretty quickly. Billy has a really interesting inner life; he’s an unsuccessful writer, and he sometimes thinks in T.S. Eliot quotes. He’s unpretentious and reasonably okay with being a bartender and a small town guy who’s just watching over his fiancee. The doctor keeps trying to convince him to pull the feeding tube, that there’s no chance Barbara will ever wake up, but Billy refuses. She tends to mutter in her sleep, and he keeps notebooks of everything she says.
The various character relationships in here are great, there are plenty of interesting people, and the plot is solid. Billy is stuck in a position of trying to clean up after a serial killer while simultaneously trying to catch him, and it’s quite tense and inventive. I definitely recommend this particular Dean Koontz novel.
Content note: dead bodies and pieces of dead bodies.