Written by: Matt Molgaard
Phantoms works because it’s scary. It’s actually scary as shit, to be crudely honest. Shape shifting ancient enemies with a knowledge tank powerful enough to blow the Burj Khalifa to bits in a split second. And who do we have to combat this menace? A ragtag group consisting of some inconsistent law officers, a couple sisters a mad genius and a crew of reckless grunts. Doesn’t sound like much of a match, but it is. And again, more importantly, it’s frightening. The first half of the novel completely grips and delivers some mind boggling goods, including a few severed heads and one of the coolest winged creatures to hit paper in decades.
Phantoms feels like Koontz in free form fashion. It seems obvious he plotted this story out quite well, but unlike some of his recent works, there’s a very organic nature to the narrative. It doesn’t feel forced in any way whatsoever, and it flows like water. We do see a few of Koontz’s recurring themes surface in the novel, but those issues are minimalized. It’s Koontz being bold and having a blast simultaneously, and it makes for one of his absolute finest (you can check out The Taking for a fun and somewhat similar effort) works to date. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that Phantoms is my favorite novel by this prolific artist.
Beyond creepy creatures and supernatural activities readers are also afforded some the best character development the man has manufactured. Stu Wargle is one of the most unbelievable abominations I can think of. Timothy Flyte is wonderfully eccentric and Jenny Paige is exactly the kind of heroine you pull for. They’re all very well fleshed out personalities, and it makes their fate all the more impacting. I loved the majority of Phantoms’ personalities, they’re strong enough carry the story and that’s crucial.
Back in 1998 they shot a film of this one, and a large portion of the critics bashed it into an unrecognizable mess. But you know? I thought it was a highly entertaining chunk of celluloid. Not everyone hit their cues perfectly, and there are some minor differences between the source and the cinematic transfer, but the film has heart. Liev Schreiber turned in what I would honestly consider and Oscar worthy performance. Very few will side with me for fear of repercussion, but I’m not shy. Schreiber left me profoundly disconcerted. That’s not easy to do, and the man deserves major respect for that performance. Completely stole the show. The point is, contrary to what many will have you believe, even the flick is worth a look.
Still one of the greatest reads that Dean Koontz has released, Phantoms ranks high amongst my all-time favorites. The man traveled to different territory and it paid off in a major way. The only thing Dead could do to top this, is release a sequel that somehow manages to be superior. I don’t see that happening, but I’m pleased with what is an engrossing, petrifying novel that will forever live on in the annals of time.