Book Review: Darkfall

My copy of the book.

I suppose 2022 is the year of returning to old favorites, Dean Koontz is the latest, with his 1984 novel, Darkfall. I’ve always seen my reading trajectory as thus: R.L. Stine as a young kid/early teen (his Fear Street series specifically; I actually wasn’t a Goosebumps kid); Dean Koontz when I was a little bit older, but still a teen; and my “final form” was to get into Stephen King fully. I don’t know why I’ve viewed Koontz as a stepping stone or gateway to King, when, by all accounts, his books can be just as ferocious, horrific, and even filled with sex, as King’s books. Nevertheless, I loved Koontz when I was younger and read a great many of his novels. One of these days, maybe I’ll go back and see how many I’ve read so far. What I do know is it has been years since I’ve read one of his novels. While browsing at a quaint bookstore in Maine last week, I came across Koontz and decided it was time.

Darkfall is about the forces of good versus evil, mainly through a villainous voodoo man, Baba Lavelle, and our righteous New York City police detective, Jack Dawson. What at first seems like someone murdering Mafia criminals in gang warfare, if more brutally than usual, turns out to be Baba using the powers of black magic and voodoo to seek vengeance upon the Mafia family, and more likely, to exercise his own lust for power and satiate his ego at having such power, or connection with the Ancient Ones (the evilest ones of Hell).

Jack is a bit of a goofy guy, primarily focused on courting his partner (because of course), Rebecca. It’s been 18 months since his wife, Linda, died of cancer and he’s lonely. He also has two children, Penny and Davey, he’s taking care of, or at least, he seems to thinks he’s doing a swell job contra his awful sister-in-law. Before the events of the book, Jack and Rebecca have already been romantically involved. Now, we’re just seeing the follow-up. We later learn that Rebecca has her own grisly past, where both of her parents were brutally murdered by a drug-user. As the book progresses and when they aren’t dealing with demons, Jack and Rebecca grow more intimate and begin use the l-word.

But because of Jack’s goofiness, I think that lends him to being open-minded (or “excessively” open-minded, in the words of Rebecca) to the idea that the crimes could be of a voodoo origin, and the name Baba Lavelle has already been making the rounds. In fact, Jack visited with the good version of a voodoo person (magician?), who partakes in white magic for good, Carver Hampton. Carver will need some courage to do the right thing and help Jack, though, for so great is his fear of Baba. It’s bocor vs. rada here; or what is known as a male Vodou (I guess that is how they spell it) witch, whereas the rada are considered “sweet-tempered” spirits.

In his ego, and in threatening to go after Jack’s children because he’s investigating the crimes, Baba not only angers the rada gods (they don’t like people going after children, obviously), he also unwittingly is being used by the Ancient Ones to open a portal to Hell in order to do it. Once Baba opens that portal ever-so-slightly to bring forth the little demons to kill the children, Penny and Davey, the Ancient Ones make the portal bigger and bigger with hopes of bringing Hell to Earth. It is the Ancient Ones, not Jack, who ultimately kill Baba.

The saving grace is that Jack, unbeknownst to him initially, is a righteous man, who has only committed minor sins, and therefore, not only has the favor of the rada gods to help him against Baba, but Baba himself knows this and is fearful of him. So, once Carver helps him, Jack is able to confront Baba. But it is funny that the Jack and Baba confrontation ultimately comes down to … shooting guns.

All of this voodoo, or Vodou interplay, especially with Jack being more open-minded to it than Rebecca, was interesting, and I’m always down for a little heaven and hell battle, even if some of the dialogue was a bit silly (I mostly was annoyed with the doorman at the aunt’s apartment, who even after hearing Jack and Rebecca fire their weapons in vain at the demons, still thought a joke was afoot?). The action scenes, however, were far from silly. When the demons were threatening Penny, who was so sweet, if misguided, in her attempt to appear strong as an 11-year-old to both her father and for her brother’s sake, at home and at school, was genuinely unsettling. Especially since everyone kept comparing the demons to rats because of how they infiltrated the ventilation systems to get into buildings and such. I have mice problems from time-to-time at my house, and sometimes, I hear the bastards in my walls. It’s unsettling! Imagine instead, if they were grotesque rat-demons hell-bent on clawing my eyes out!

Then, when the crap really hits the fan, which is always a fun part of any book, and Baba has done the incantation to sick the demons onto Penny and Davey — seriously, this book quickly dispelled me of my belief that Koontz was King-lite, because Baba is written as evil as one can get with not only his intent to savagely kill the children and live vicariously through the demons while they do it, but he even threatens to rape Penny — the chase scenes when Jack, Rebecca and the children are running from the demons, first at the aunt’s apartment and then through New York City experiencing a massive snowstorm is exhilarating and terrifying. Koontz expertly conveys that nipping at the heels feeling here. Even when Rebecca and the kids get to the St. Patrick’s Cathedral, that isn’t enough to ward of the hellish demons.

Fortunately, Jack comes through with holy water and his own blood in stigmata fashion to close the portal to Hell and save everyone. Because duh, good always wins and should always win in the end.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I’m thinking, with a few exceptions in mind, that about 371 pages, as this book was, is a rather perfect length for fiction. Koontz didn’t overstay his welcome here, and as a reader, I was better off for it. I also have to say, as much as I love settings that get us away from the big cities and those places are ripe as horror settings, there is also something extremely fun and terrifying about the dichotomy of horror in a very open, public place as a big city. That’s why I’ve always enjoyed Jason Takes Manhattan as a concept, but was bummed they didn’t do more in Manhattan.

I’m going to be a bit squeamish thinking about things rattling around in the vents. And I also wish I hadn’t “put down” Koontz books for so long now. Hopefully Koontz isn’t into black magic and vengeance. More rada than bocor, right? Right?

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