Today I want to talk to you about Watcher by Dean Koontz, while this is not typically thought of as a horror novel, rather it is listed as suspense, I feel it works well enough as a horror to look at it here.
The book was published in 1987 and is credited as being on of the books that raised Koontz’s status to that of a best-selling author.
Our main character Travis is a former solider and retired real estate salesman, who has become depressed due to his previous life experiences and now feels that his life is pointless. While on a hike, he encounters a golden retriever which follows him, and they take an instant liking to each other. Travis takes the doggo home and calls him Einstein due to the pooch’s high intelligence levels. The dog does not speak but clearly understands English and can respond in such a way that his intelligence in unmistakable.
We also meet Nora, who is being stalked by a creepy asshole, Arthur. Eventually Travis and Nora meet when Travis rescues Nora from Arthur, with Einstein’s help. Travis, Einstein, and Nora become a family and Travis and Nora keep working to find better ways to communicate with Einstein.
However, through the story it is apparent that Einstein is afraid of something. That something is the outsider. Einstein and the Outsider are both genetically modified creatures, hence Einstein’s intelligence. However, where Einstein only had his intelligence modified the Outsider is an amalgamation of various animals with the soul drive to kill Einstein.
Federal agents are also in pursuit of Einstein, and finally they are also pursued by an assassin who was hired to kill those who know how to kill the Outsider but also wants Einstein to sell.
I don’t want to spoil the ending here, it’s best experienced first-hand. There’s a reason this book is credited with being on of the ones that made Koontz a best seller.
Overall, I really liked this book, I read it an awfully long time ago and recently bought the audio version to pop on in the car during the commute (though thanks to COVID-19 the commute is probably still a long way off).
Koontz is a master of atmosphere, and while many people feel that this book is a suspense book and not really a horror, I find that the atmosphere is one of Thriller horror. While the threats against our trio are very physical it is the psychological effect that those fears have on them that make this story great. The exploration of the different types of fear and how they influence the characters is very well done.
The book also has elements of gross out horror, as it can be violent in places and Koontz does not shy away from this. Though I personally did not find it excessive or over the top, it served the story and did well in establishing the stakes.
The book also used various types of fear, the outsider, while being an amalgamation of creatures is also an amalgamation of fear types. It incorporates instinctive fears as well as the obvious fear of monsters and lastly societal tensions with the fear of what can happen if man takes genetic science to far.
The stakes in the book are also nice and cleat, we have the survival stakes, particularly for Einstein but also for Travis and Nora. Protecting loved ones and there’s a bit of cracking the mystery around Einstein and the Outsider.
Overall, I recommend this book.