After 50 years at his craft and 500 million books sold, Dean Koontz is still setting his own agenda and Quicksilver is an imaginative and thought-provoking read. The author’s energy and enthusiasm are evident, and this is a book that defies expectations throughout. It has monsters, bad guys, strange events and unforeseen plot twists… Nobody does cross-genre quite like him, nor changes topic and style so dramatically from novel to novel, so there’s a fresh feel to each new offering.
Quinn Quicksilver was abandoned as a baby on blacktop highway in a simple bassinet, seven miles outside Peptoe, Arizona. The three wise men who found him delivered him to the Mater Misericordiae Catholic orphanage in Phoenix, where he grew up. Later, he thinks fate must have played a hand as he survived the coyotes and the 18-wheelers trucks that regularly roll down that road. Quinn now has a burning need to understand who he is and why he was abandoned.
These are not unusual questions for a young man in his position but his quest becomes incredibly complicated. Quinn is special, only he doesn’t know it. He’s 19 years old and is an innocent in the ways of the world, yet others seen to know more about him than he does himself and they think he’s dangerous.
At 18, Quinn left the orphanage to begin his adult life. This could easily be an ordinary coming of age story were it not for Quinn’s gift – strange magnetism. One day he finds a rare coin worth $40,000 and cashes in. Without knowing why, he withdraws that money from the bank and stashes it in bundles ready to leave at any time. He doesn’t know why until the day the government goons from the Internal Security Agency show up at the diner in dark glasses, white shirts, black suits and ties looking to arrest him. They don’t specify why.
For some reason, they think Quinn is a public enemy and he knows he has to run before they take him in. Escaping by the skin of his teeth he leaves Phoenix heading back to where it all began, Peptoe. En route Quinn can’t resist the pull of a detour and finds himself heading towards a farm he’s never been to before. He crashes through the barn door where two men in black are torturing a woman – a fight to the death ensues.
It’s all breathless stuff and the woman he saves, Bridget, will help Quinn understand his new predicament. She shares the strange magnetism. Bridget has been protected all her life by her grandfather, Sparky Rainking, who is a source of humour in the novel. Now they’ve killed the two agents they have to run, and they’ll be hunted and hounded wherever they go.
Then there are the Screamers, which appear human but this is a mask. They may seem scarier than the agents, but nothing is more terrifying than the inhumanity of man. Quinn and his new comrades are constantly uncovering the secrets of the present and past on their quest to save the world.
Koontz’s last novel, The Other Emily, was a psychological thriller with elements of science fact and fiction in it, but more than anything it was a powerful love story. Against that background, Quicksilver seems to come out of the blue. This is a story of misfits on the run. It’s loaded with humour and tinged with fantasy. There’s plenty of action and adventure and a coming of age story, or at least a tale of coming to terms with the adult world. For some time Koontz has been writing literary novels that explore the philosophical and spiritual questions of what it is to be human. This is a tale of a boy learning to understand who he is, navigating his way in a dangerous world.
Those Screamers, which start off as supernatural monsters, take on a new meaning as the narrative develops. We start to see that the worst monsters are sometimes people themselves. There’s no identifying mark to a monster, no inhuman form, they are the worst of us. The real darkness is inside the human soul.This is about identity and realisation, about finding meaning in life, recognising the monsters, moral fibre.
Koontz has an almost Dickensian approach to creating his characters – Quinn Quicksilver and Sparky Rainking have their own ticks and foibles which make them memorable. He loves asides, little details that are stories in their own right and language is important. From gripping openings to word play that adds to the delight of the experience.
How much you enjoy this novel will depend on how open you are to supernatural themes and allowing the author to take you on a journey that is likely unlike anything you’ve experienced before, unless you’ve already read some of his philosophical novels. Quicksilver is thrilling ride into the unknown that reflects on the darker side of life.
Thomas & Mercer
CFL Rating: 4 Stars