Dean R. Koontz Critical Essays

Dean Koontz


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

While Dean R. Koontz is typically regarded as a writer of horror fiction, in the majority of his works, the horror is the result of one character’s inhumanity toward another and not the product of any supernatural force. His tautly written psychological explorations of the darker side of the human mind often share major elements, including a protagonist with an abusive upbringing who has achieved financial independence and success, a sociopathic antagonist who cannot be redeemed, and the motif of love and compassion as forces of salvation along with lesser elements such as a dog as a character, the appearance of a Ford sports utility vehicle, and a Southern California setting.

Larger themes are frequently repeated. Distrust of the government often appears in Koontz’s books, a relic of his time with the Appalachian Poverty Program, which left him with the belief that such programs encourage the impoverished to depend on them rather than to work to better their condition and are vastly inefficient means of getting help to those who most critically need it.

Antagonists are seldom women in Koontz’s works. When female antagonists do appear, they are usually partnered with a dominant male figure. Many of his female characters seem unwontedly passive and unable to escape their fates, although a few characters do contradict such a generalization.


In Whispers, a young woman, Hilary Thomas, becomes the target of a psychopathic killer. When the killer dies but somehow still continues to stalk Thomas, she and her detective boyfriend, Tony Clemenza, must track down the real-world explanation behind the killer’s continued existence.

The book showcases one of Koontz’s at times unfortunate tendencies in that characters are prone to pausing and delivering long expository statements or dialogues whose topics range from the meaning of life to politics. In Koontz’s work, what seem to be supernatural events are eventually shown to have explanations more grounded in reality, although sometimes that reality seems to be somewhat stretched.


In Phantoms, when sisters Jenny and Lisa Paige arrive in the small ski resort town of Snowfield, California, they discover that the inhabitants have recently vanished. Only a few bodies remain, all bearing the marks of having died in a moment...

(The entire section is 980 words.)