Book review: Innocence by Dean Koontz
** spoiler alert ** The engine driving this story, and the key to one’s enjoyment of it, is the mystery of the protagonist. Addison Goodheart lives in isolation in the tunnels under New York, and has done so for 18 years, only venturing out in the quietest times of night, or when the city’s normal inhabitants are driven indoors by particularly bad weather. He sequesters himself – as one of the Hidden, and we learn there are, or were, at least two others – because, on seeing him, people try to kill him. The midwife tried to smother him at birth, his own mother came near to killing him and, in the end, banished him from their home because she could bear the sight of him no longer, strangers seeing him, assault and try to murder him, but Addison remains innocent of wrongdoing. So, the question driving the book, and the reader, is why? One’s initial thought is some physical disfigurement, but it quickly becomes apparent that is not the case. I did wonder, as I’d reached near five sixths of the way through the book (which retains Koontz’s normal narrative flair although in retrospect there may have been some authorial handwaving to drive us past some plot points), whether Koontz would simply leave it open; I was beginning to suspect that he’d dug himself a hole from which there was no escape, other than ignoring the fact he was in a hol in the first place. But doing this would have been a complete authorial cop out.
In the end, Koontz does not disappoint. He gives us the answer near the end, and it is, I think, the only possible explanation: Addison Goodheart truly is innocent, born without the fissure in the soul that marks human beings (an everyday example of how original sin works: think of the relief with which we shuck off good habits compared with our struggles in escaping from bad ones). He is a new Adam, and all those seeing him are struck with the complete intuition of their own evil – no wonder they find him appalling; he strips, unwittingly, their illusions of themselves.
The final few chapters become an Apocalypse – a new earth is ushered in by a devastating virus. I’ve taken off a star because Koontz doesn’t really signal this at all earlier in the book, and for such an ending there should have been some foreshadowing, and the writing style tends too much towards the folksy for my taste. But, overall, one of Koontz’s best, but a story likely to engender extreme reactions due to its ending.