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Title: Mr Murder
Author: Dean Koontz
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars
Bestselling mystery writer Marty Stillwater was recording himself one day when he realized that he was saying “I need…” repeatedly. When he rewound the recording he found that he had been unconsciously repeating “I need” for over 7 minutes. Marty was tense that whole day, when he put the kids to bed though he calmed down considerably and was finally consoled.
Meanwhile, the Killer is roaming the streets before his job. He goes into a bar and leaves with a prostitute to go to a motel. He has sex with her and then murders her because she cannot assuage his frustration. He proceeds to kill his targets and returns to his hotel. That night, still restless, he is drawn for some reason towardsTopeka. Suddenly, he starts saying:
“I need… to be… I need to be… I need to be…” As the suburbs and finally the dark prairie flash past on both sides, excitement builds steadily in him. He trembles on the brink of an insight that, he senses, will change his life. “I need to be… to be… I need to be someone.” At once he understands the meaning of what he has said. By “to be someone,” he does not mean what another man might intend to say with those same three words; he does not mean that he needs to be someone famous or rich or important. Just someone. Someone with a real name. Just an ordinary Joe, as they used to say in the movies of the forties.
— Mr. Murder page 48-49
The Killer is attracted like a magnet by some force he doesn’t understand to the Stillwater residence. On his way he kills several people; an old couple for a set of clothes and a gas station clerk to steal food and money. When he breaks into the Stillwater house he sees a picture of Marty and believes it to be himself. He observes books authored by Marty and decides they are his. He sees the pictures of the daughters Emily and Charlotte and Marty’s wife Paige, he then decides he wants to be the father and husband. He attempts to write a book but cannot and in his frustration he destroys the computer.
Marty was quite upset about his fugues (a break in one’s memory) and so went to see a doctor. The doctor attributed it to stress.
When Marty comes home he finds things misplaced and his computer smashed. The Other then enters and accuses him of being an impostor. He menaces Marty who shoots him twice in the chest, but the Other is unfazed. The fight catapults them over the banisters leaving the Other seriously injured but he gets away. Marty’s family returns home, and Marty sends them to their neighbour’s house. Soon after, the police arrive. Cyrus Lowbock, the detective, interrogates Marty and doesn’t believe his story, insinuating it is a publicity stunt. Marty and his wife refuse to cooperate and the police leave.
The Other’s body has rapidly recovered from his injuries but the effort leaves him ravenous. After consuming massive amounts of food he returns to get Paige and the girls back from Marty who he believes has stolen them. He manages to get the daughters from the neighbour’s house, but Marty sees him and gives chase. The car crashes and the girls escape but the Killer flees again.
Drew Oslett and Karl Clocker, two operatives of a clandestine government agency are sent to retrieve the Killer (referred to as “Alfie”) They discover the bodies of the two seniors and Alfie’s tracking device. A message from their agency leads them toward the People magazine article on Marty Stillwater and they discover his connection with the Killer. They meet a contact who might help them find Alfie. To maintain their cover they decide the Stillwaters have to be terminated to look like a murder/suicide and Alfie has to be brought in.
Meanwhile, the Stillwaters flee to a cabin in Mammoth Lakes and prepare to defend themselves against attack by The Other. Paige hides under a rock to ambush The Other, but unpredictably he rams his car through the cabin. The Stillwaters then flee to an abandoned church. Here Marty is shot and Paige and the girls are trapped. As The Other prepares to kill them, Drew and Karl track him down. Drew kills The Other and is then killed by Karl who has turned against the agency. He rescues the Stillwaters, provides them with new identities, a new home and evidence to bring the agency down. He explains that cloning and genetic engineering were used to create a breed of elite assassins, with Marty’s tissue samples accidentally becoming involved in creating Alfie. After a few months Marty mails the evidence to the authorities from an anonymous name and the Stillwaters begin their new lives.
This is what I was hoping for from Koontz. Pure thriller through and through. I was thinking, when I reached the end, if I enjoyed this or Lightning more. It’s a real tossup and I would recommend either one if you wanted to dip your toes into the Koontz ocean (seriously, this guy has written a bajillion books).
In terms of tension, Koontz did an admirable job of keeping me in suspense even while staying true to his trademark “The Hero Doesn’t Die” platform. I figured the wife and kids were safe as well, but when the girls are kidnapped, I wondered if all bets were off. Thankfully, they were ok. Marty’s parents (Marty being the main character) however, were pure cannon fodder and I almost wished they’d been off’ed nearer the beginning rather in the last 10% so as to provide even more tension about the wife and kids.
I’ve got a quote or two I’m including in this review instead of doing them as separate posts (Gulag is taking up the Quote posts for the whole month, the greedy hog!)
“Standing in his kitchen, holding the loaded Beretta, Marty knew that he and Paige now constituted their own last line of defense.
No one else. No greater authority. No guardian of the public welfare.”
~ Page 248
“She wondered what it was about storytelling that made people want it almost as much as food and water, even more so in bad times than in good.”
~ Page 320
The first quote made me think about the Law and the police, as the embodiment of the Law. The Law does not PREVENT crime from happening. Nor should it. The Law states “X is the Law and if you break the Law you will be punished”. Cops are meant to be an “after the fact” part of the Law. They find and arrest the perpetrators. They don’t sit outside a private citizens house and prevent it from being burgled, that is the responsibility of the home owner. However, that is not the reality of life today. The majority of my fellow countrymen have given up their responsibility to take care of themselves and handed that off to the government. The inevitable outcome of THAT is always tyranny. Just look at how the Governor of the State of New York has acted during this covid19 outbreak to see tyranny in action.
The second quote, and its attendant idea, was much more pleasant to contemplate, thankfully. Koontz, being a writer, talks up storytelling as much as he can. He touches on the idea of stories being an escape but also states he thinks it goes deeper than that; that the need for a story is built into us, like God put it in from the beginning.
So to end this, I thoroughly enjoyed this tense thriller even while knowing the protagonist was going to be ok. That is the kind of story Koontz tells and it is the kind of story I like to read. The Good Guys Win, the Bad Guys Defeated, Evil Vanquished.