Frankenstein: Lost Souls by Dean Koontz (Harper, 2010)
Reviewed by Robert Hood
Dean Koontz’s Frankenstein series began life as a treatment for a TV series. When best-selling horror author Koontz withdrew, citing creative differences, he took the concept with him, and turned it into a series of novels — the first two, Prodigal Son and City of Night, co-written with Kevin J. Anderson and Ed Gorman respectively. The third, Dead and Alive, and the most recent, Lost Souls, saw Koontz taking over the reins solo.
Conceptually the series develops and extends Mary Shelley’s original novel into the present, displaying considerable original invention while incorporating into the framework ideas reminiscent (to an extent) of those that Hammer Studios introduced into their six Frankenstein films between 1957 and 1974 — in particular, in Lost Souls, the concept that Victor Frankenstein might become his own creation. As in the Hammer films, Koontz’s Victor Frankenstein is the monster, whose arrogant, sociopathic thirst for godhood results in escalating apocalyptic horror — for such is Victor’s evolving scientific genius that he has succeeded in extending his own life indefinitely and seeks to perfect humanity, eventually replacing the flawed variety that currently inhabits the world — the Old Race — with his own “perfect” creatures.
After two hundred years — during which time he has re-enforced his old-style research into artificial life with modern genetic advances and from that base created virtual supermen in the form of bio-androids that he controls through flesh-based cybernetics — who is there to stop him? Well, for a start there are two detectives, Carson O’Connor and her partner Michael Maddison, who in the earlier books thwart, with help, the plans of Victor Helios (as Frankenstein now calls himself). By Book 4 they have married, had a child, left the force and become private detectives — content in the knowledge that Victor is dead. Of even greater importance is the creature known as Deucalion — Frankenstein’s original creation, who is still, perhaps, his greatest success, despite the monstrous nature of his appearance.
Where Frankenstein’s actions have become increasingly monstrous over the years, Deucalion (named after the son of Prometheus — Mary Shelley’s novel being subtitled “A Modern Prometheus”) has found a form of peace and has embraced his own supra-humanity without rejecting ordinary humans in the process. Totally free of his creator’s controlling influence (unlike Victor’s newest creations), Deucalion still seeks redemption for the monstrous violence of his past and focuses now on ridding the world of Frankenstein and his evil legacy. He is highly intelligent, determined, physically strong and so in tune with himself and the life-currents of the world that he is able to move instantaneously through quantum space. Deucalion is a true superman, in fact — and a hero to boot. Like all the best superheroes, he is conflicted and troubled by the past but honorable and self-sacrificial nevertheless.
In Lost Souls O’Connor, Maddison and Deucalion learn that Victor may be dead (they saw him die in the previous book) but that somehow a new plan to rid the world of the Old Race has been set in motion in a small town in Montana. Except to say that it involves some rather horrific and grisly concepts, I won’t describe how that can be, or explain the nature of the new apocalypse, as these elements are really all that the novel offers readers. Neither are big revelations (you’ll guess them well before they arrive) but at least they’re something. Sadly, no one will confuse Lost Souls with an effective stand-alone novel. Plot-wise, the 350-page book is really just set-up for what is to come in the next volume of the saga (The Dead Town, due out in 2011) — and this is its biggest flaw.
Now I’m aware that the novel is part of a series — more one episode of a serial in fact — and hence isn’t by definition complete, but these days one would expect that such a series would at least emulate current TV serial narrative structures and within the boundaries of each installment provide a climactic development that leaves the reader both satisfied and hungry to find out What It All Means and Where It Goes Next. The early books did this, offering a contained narrative sequence within the context of a larger arc — like a good episode of Buffy, where our protagonists deal with a minor Bad that in various ways progresses our journey toward the Big Bad at season’s end. Here, Lost Souls simply stops on page 350, offering some character resolve but no resolution, not even a minor climax. It is all set-up, quite literally ending just before the action to which it has been heading is about to start. You turn the page to find an ad for the next book, but are left dissatisfied with this book’s own narrative logic. Yes, it’s Part One of a two-part novel — though this is stated nowhere on the book.
That’s not to say that Koontz doesn’t offer interesting characters and situations along the way. He does, leaping frantically from one set of characters to another and gradually creating a quite complex picture of a fascinatingly horrific situation — bringing characters into place, putting the pieces on the board as it were. But the book, as a single entity, offers no sense of having even a minor identity of its own.
Here Koontz’s usual bestseller style is rather distended as well — too often stylistically confusing blandness for clarity. His skill at dialogue — particularly a type of folksy banter that helps both explain and endear the characters to us — carries on for too long, becoming space filler rather than driving the narrative or sculpting the characters for us. We get the point and then he shows it to us again and again. The whole thing — for all the inherent interest of its ideas, conceptual development and characters — seems like filler and speed-dial filler at that. Once upon a time this book, as part of a serial tale (like a series of pulp books featuring Frankenstein’s monster and his adventures I recall from the 1960s), would have been 200 pages long (or less) and would have done similar things. It would probably have offered a minor climax as well. Had Lost Souls been 200 pages long, with a more structured narrative, it would have been a more satisfying book in its own right — and a more telling link in the serial chain.
However, if Koontz’s imaginative development of the Frankenstein story and the other elements that I’ve described appeal to you, or if you’re a Frankenstein or Koontz c0mpletist, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend that you go fetch the previous books and read them. I enjoyed them thoroughly and admire the author’s invention. Lost Souls by itself mightn’t win you to the cause, but by the time you get to it, Book 5 may have been released and you can simply keep reading through, ignoring the anti-climactic, rambling inadequacy of this one.
- This review first appeared on the horror news and review site Horrorscope.