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Author: Dean Koontz
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars
Wikipedia and Me
As Laura Shane is born in January 1955, during a freak lightning storm, a mysterious blond stranger (Stefan) prevents a drunken Dr. Paul Markwell from attending to the difficult and complicated delivery. Her mother dies in childbirth, though Laura is a perfectly healthy, exceptionally beautiful baby, and she is left to be raised by her father Bob Shane. When Laura is eight years old, a junkie attempts to rob her father’s convenience store; however the blond stranger reappears, saving them both and instructing them on what to tell the police. In 1967, Bob Shane dies of a heart attack. At her father’s funeral Laura sees the stranger watching over her yet again and begins to think he is her guardian angel, along with an unnamed man calling for her when she tries to follow him.
Laura is sent to live in the McIlroy orphanage, where she is housed with a set of twins, Thelma and Ruth, who later become her best friends. She also meets Willy Sheener, a frightening child molester who is also the maintenance man and custodian. Willy becomes infatuated with Laura due to her uncommonly good looks, haunting her wherever she goes in the orphanage. However, due to past experience the twins warn Laura that reporting Sheener, also known as “The White Eel” or “Eel” for short, will do more harm than good. Laura is eventually sent to live with a foster family that exploits her, so she purposely behaves badly and they send her back to the orphanage. After several disturbing incidents, her mysterious angel visits Sheener and brutally beats him. This scares him off for some time, until Laura is sent to live with the Dockwielers, with whom she quickly forms a bond. Sheener comes to their home one afternoon; Laura is able to fend him off and eventually kill him, but the shock of discovering the scene causes her new foster mother to suffer a fatal heart attack, sending Laura back to the orphanage. Shortly thereafter, Laura turns 13 and is moved to another orphanage for older children, and receives the devastating news that Ruth was caught in a fire in McIlroy and died.
At college, Laura’s creative writing brings her to the attention of Danny, a naive man who has fallen in love with her from afar. After a botched attempt at being her secret admirer they agree to date and over time, fall in love. After their marriage Laura becomes a celebrated author of several books and gives birth to a boy, Christopher Robert. The birth was difficult, making it so she will not be able to have any children in the future.
Years later, Danny, Laura and Chris are saved from a horrific accident by the blond man’s (revealed to be named Stefan) intervention. The unnamed man shows up moments later. Both Danny and the blond man attack but Danny dies of several gunshot wounds, before Stefan kills the man and tells Laura what to say, like years ago at the grocery store. He promises to return soon and tell more, but due to mistakes, he doesn’t return until a year later, wounded, in an isolated stretch of winter woods. Laura and Chris are able to treat him at a doctor they locate in the phone book, but must battle unknown assassins shortly thereafter.
The group hides out in a small motel. Stefan recovers and finally tells his story. He was born in 1909, making him 35 years old. He is from Nazi Germany in the year 1944, and is part of secret time traveling experiments, sending agents to the future to uncover ways to change the outcome of World War II. Stefan had previously arrived in an alternate version of 1984 and had seen Laura, who was a quadriplegic because of Dr. Markwell’s drunken errors during her delivery. However, despite her disability, she wrote beautiful books of poetry which inspired Stefan to renounce his mission, and travel to difficult parts of her life to change them. However, his superior Kokoschka became suspicious of him and followed him, sending the assassins into the future to learn of their path.
With the help of Thelma, who has become rich as a comedienne and actress since her sister’s death, they gain many supplies they need. Fat Jack, an arms dealer, supplies them with guns and Vexxon nerve gas. With the aid of modern computational technology, Stefan is prepared to go back to his time. He uses the nerve gas to kill the five men on duty at the time and disposes their bodies six billion years in the future. He makes a jump to see Winston Churchill and convinces him that the institute containing the time machine must be bombed; Churchill agrees. Stefan also makes a trip to Adolf Hitler, to convince the dictator of various threads that must be cleared up, in reality sabotaging the German war effort.
While he is gone, Laura and Chris, in an empty patch of rain washed desert, are attacked by more Nazis, as records of a police stop have been discovered. Stefan returns to find Laura and Chris dead. He works around the time limit of the machine by sending Laura a message to save them. Despite this, Chris and Laura still have to battle all four men themselves. The second cylinder of nerve gas proves invaluable. It is Laura who eventually kills all four men pursuing them, as she protects Chris as best she can. In the long months that follow, Laura and Chris are questioned by the police. They soon believe a story of ‘drug dealers’ who wanted revenge. Laura backs up her story by turning over Fat Jack, something she was going to do anyway (he does not blame her, due to his personal beliefs). Stefan, who had been hiding with Thelma, comes to live with the two again. After even more time, Laura finds herself falling in love with him.
The book ends with Stefan realizing that a throw-away comment he made to Winston Churchill had lead to the downfall of the Soviet Union in this world and that this is now the “real world”, the World That Was Meant To Be.
This book was published in 1988 and the Terminator movie was released in 1984. Considering my thoughts about Koontz and the Terminator franchise in my Hell’s Gate Review I’ve realized that the idea comes from Koontz first, and it is also something he simply cannot “not” write about. Every story he writes usually has some sort of either time traveling or alternate reality traveling.
I think this was my most enjoyable Koontz so far, beyond Odd Thomas of course. This was also one of his longest books yet. Like I said in my Quote post, this felt like Koontz was at the top of his game when he was writing this. With this being slightly longer than his normal book, Koontz doesn’t have to rush the ending, which is one flaw of his that he doesn’t seem to see as a flaw in most of his books. I was thankful for that, as it made finishing the book more enjoyable.
Now, while I enjoyed this a lot, there was some subject matter that needs to be talked about, as it could be a real problem for people. Laura was “fated” to either be crippled or raped as a child. There are two times where she is almost child raped but her protector Stefan steps in and keeps it from happening and while nothing happens, the very idea that it “could” happen was just very disturbing. It definitely was NOT a Lolita style of story plot, but the simple inclusion of it really disturbed me. Thankfully Koontz never gets graphic, but he also doesn’t shy away from his characters stating what they plan to do to Laura. So just be aware of that particular subject matter.
I mentioned the non-rush ending, which is not typical of Koontz and how much I liked that. What I REALLY liked however was how Koontz slips in a “better” future that was “meant to be”, one without a Soviet Union. I never saw that outcome coming and seeing how he wrote it into the storyline was cool. I just smiled at how he uses time travel and the rules he sets up.
I’d recommend this book as long as you handle the tension of child Laura being in real danger.