Author: Dean Koontz

Title: 77 Shadow Street

Publisher: Bantam

A master storyteller who has proved with success across a variety of genres, Dean Koontz is no stranger to creepy, moody material. And his latest, the nightmare-inducing 77 Shadow Street ranks among Koontz's best.

It's a pitch-perfect thriller, melding elements of science fiction, horror, and post-apocalyptic popular fiction into a delicious mix, underpinned with the masterfully rendered psychological realism Koontz has become known for.

Ostensibly a "spooky house" mystery set in an anonymous town in the present day, Shadow takes place entirely within the walls of the Pendleton, a luxury apartment building remodeled from an 1800's- era residence. In the novel's first pages, resident Earl Blandon, a former U.S. Senator, gets into the elevator after a night on the town.

The elevator roof vanishes, it plunges downward, and Blandon vanishes into a mysterious nether-region. Shortly after, strange creatures are sighted outside the windows of the building, television sets begin pulsing blue light, and an odd fungus begins growing on walls and ceilings.

The action of Shadow shifts among a dozen or more residents of the building, an eclectic cast of characters which ranges from hired gun Mickey Dime, songwriter Twyla Trahern and nine year old son Winston, professor Kirby Ignis, and others. Koontz weaves back and forth among characters and venues within the building skillfully, mixing plot and character, moving the story along while delving into each character's backstory. The result is a story which emphasizes the diversity and humanity of any random collection of people as much as it is a mystery.

Gradually, the group begins to develop theories about the origin of these mysterious occurrences, and correctly concludes a sinister force is behind it. Divulging the origin of this force, as well as additional plot developments, would mean giving up crucial spoilers. Suffice it to say, Koontz has more than a few tricks up his sleeve, and that the ending is more than satisfying, which is high praise given how metaphysically ambiguous so much of this novel is.

In stories like this, authors often create a Big Reveal credited to a bizarre, fantastic source, but Koontz takes a tougher road, making every aspect of this novel completely plausible, despite its seemingly supernatural appearances.

As a piece of supernaturally-flavored popular fiction, Shadow is first-rate. But where it really shines is in the moments between the thrills. Koontz is ever-careful to create authentic characters who feel like real people. He's as interested in mining the intricacies of human psychology and motivations as he is creating the bizarre and terrifying beasts which populate these pages. As a result, we're not only deeply interested in these characters making it through, but we are able to arrive at some meaningful conclusions about people.

The story of nine-year old Winston and his friend, Iris Sykes, withdrawn from the world due to autism, is particularly compelling, as Winston struggles to find the courage to become the hero he's read about in books. The notion of a group of strangers thrown together in the face of long odds to defeat a common enemy is not a new one in literature, but in this case, when set amidst Koontz's other parts, creates something new and riveting.

Here is a novel for lovers of science fiction, creature-filled thrillers, and psychological realism. But in its ultimate ending, Koontz has managed to craft something a bit more relevant, a cautionary tale against unguarded scientific experimentation, and the horrors of the human ego. Frankenstein comes to mind. It's not the same story, but it succeeds for the same reasons.

*This review first published 1/10/2012