Rating: 4 out of 5
Dean Koontz’s Nameless: Season One is six short novelettes that do, in fact, resemble a season of a television show in structure. The first books are episodic, and then a little bit of arc plot slips in, followed by a season-ender that includes arc-plot revelations.
The basic setup is this: “Nameless” is a man who only remembers the last two years of his life. He’s okay with this; he has the feeling that he agreed to the artificially-induced amnesia, and that he’s better off not remembering who he was. He works for a mysterious organization, and his contact is called simply the Ace of Diamonds. This group selects targets for him: bad people who have gotten away with murder and other horrible crimes. He exacts “truth” rather than justice or revenge (supposedly), taking on different identities and delivering some sort of supposedly-deserved punishment. The organization behind him clearly has deep pockets and voluminous resources. To up the ante and make things even more interesting, Nameless sometimes has clairvoyant flashes of things that have happened already or things that are to come. As the season progresses, he starts having a particular and unusual montage of clairvoyant glimpses that may be past, future, or some blending of the two. And if he can’t figure out where it takes place and how to deal with it, people will die.
In the Heart of the Fire (Nameless: Season One Book 1) introduces us to Nameless and his mission. He has no credit cards and carries no ID. He’s directed to motels where he has reservations awaiting him. Cars are left for him to use; mysterious suitcases full of clothes and cash accompany him. He shows up to speak to one Jennifer Demeter, a woman at the end of her rope. The local sheriff Russell Soakes seems obsessed with her, refusing to take no for an answer as he attempts to court her. But there’s a twist–she’s realized that he isn’t interested in her. He’s fixated on her 10-year-old daughter, Seraphina. And she’d do anything to protect her daughter. Soakes’s family pretty much owns the area, so there’s no good way to turn him in to law enforcement. And he’s been a predator for years–Nameless’s organization has figured that much out. So it’s up to Nameless to deal with Soakes. There’s just one major problem: his clairvoyance has shown him a future in which Jennifer dies, and he can’t always change the future. This story is a nail-biter with horrific bad guys we can totally feel good about rooting against. Jennifer in particular is an interesting character.
In Photographing the Dead (Nameless: Season One Book 2), Nameless hunts a wealthy, privileged serial killer. Can he nab him before a pair of twin women come upon the serial killer while hiking? Photographer Oxenwald is an interesting killer. He sees himself as an avatar of Death, and is almost wholly fixated on his “hunts.”
The Praying Mantis Bride (Nameless: Season One Book 3) is a bit different than the other installments. Nameless’s target this time is an exceedingly superstitious woman who has married and killed three different wealthy men. At first I wasn’t sure why Nameless’s organization would target someone like her, but it becomes obvious eventually. The setup for dealing with Lucia in this one is more complex than the previous two, and it’s really fascinating. Nameless is tasked with using Lucia’s superstitions against her.
Red Rain (Nameless: Season One Book 4) focuses on a disfigured woman named Regina who lost her two young children in a fire. When she tried to push on the idea that the fire was deliberately set, she was threatened. The various people involved have a long history of arson-for-insurance-money, and Nameless plans to deal with the lot of them.
In The Mercy of Snakes (Nameless: Season One Book 5), wealthy senior citizens at Oakshore Park are dying of strokes. Brock McCall believes this is no coincidence, and that the doctor who owns the place is killing people. Nameless’s organization has uncovered a conspiracy, and it’s his job to deal with the various conspirators. Just to make things more difficult, he seems to be developing some possible cracks in his amnesia, and a weird montage-clairvoyant episode returns.
Memories of Tomorrow (Nameless: Season One Book 6) brings us to the end of the season. First, Nameless has to rescue a young boy who’s been kidnapped by his stepfather, a drug addict who killed his own wife. As he heads out on his own afterward, something feels very wrong. He starts seeing things from his weird vision, only slightly off. A young boy instead of a young girl. A waitress whose features are slightly wrong and whose name isn’t right. He will do whatever it takes to prevent the nightmare pile-up from his vision from coming true–and then he’ll have to beg Ace to shore up the cracks in his rapidly failing amnesia. We do find out who he is, why he became Nameless, and why he does what he does, with some questions left unanswered for the next (and final) season.
I do have a few questions and issues. One, why does Nameless get his money in hundred as well as twenties? Almost no businesses will break hundreds at this point; it’s difficult to use them as legal tender in most places, and yet he seems to have no trouble with this. Two, I’m not really buying this whole “truth not justice” thing. The truth doesn’t always get out from what he does, and it seems like we really are dealing more with vengeance than anything else, despite the fact that the organization and Nameless have no relationship to the people they’re helping (or avenging). Three, Nameless repeats the idea that “white-hat hackers” have a comparatively easy time of ferreting out the truth. You don’t have to look far to see that just because people want to do good and have some computer skills doesn’t guarantee anything (remember how multiple people got misidentified as the Boston Marathon bomber by well-meaning internet sleuths?).
While the series glosses over some things, it’s still intriguing and fun, especially if you like stories of bad people getting what’s coming to them.
To be fair to himself, perhaps he should accept that some fates are sewn into the fabric of time with tighter stitches than others.