Ashley Bell by Dean Koontz (Bantam, Dec. 8th, 2015)-I’ve been a fan of Dean Koontz since I read Phantoms at around 10. Yeah, I’ve been a fan for a while, so I’ve been eagerly awaiting Ashley Bell, and it was so worth the wait. Bibi (prounounced BeeBee) Blair, at only 22, is a published author and wise beyond her years. She’s engaged to a Navy SEAL named Pax and has parents that adore her. Life is good, until she gets the news that she’s suffering from an inoperable form of brain cancer, and has very little time left. She refuses to believe she’s dying, and when the figure of a man walking a beautiful golden retriever appears to her in her hospital room, she believes them to be a harbinger, and indeed, she soon finds out that she seems to be free of cancer. When her parents send a woman named Calida Butterfly to her home to give Bibi a “reading”, she gets much more than she bargained for. Calida tells her that she’s to save someone named Ashley Bell, and this is the reason she’s been given a second chance. Bibi doesn’t shy away from anything, and she begins the search. Soon Bibi is targeted by someone that could give Hitler a run for his morny, and must rely on herself to not only find out who Ashley Bell is, but rescue her from a group of people that don’t blink at committing murder to meet their goals. Meanwhile, a world away, Pax is on a life or death mission, but he gets a strange feeling that Bibi might be in danger, so he hopes to make his way home as soon as possible to be by her side.
Bibi is irresistable, and her journey to find the truth about Ashley Bell doesn’t lead where you might think. In fact, Bibi must look within herself for some of the answers as she navigates a dark yet familiar landscape, one with shadows around every corner. Interspersed with her search are passages about Bibi as a child, and readers soon find out that Bibi is much more special than she seemed at first bush. If it seems like I’m being vague, it’s because there’s a humongous twist in this book that, in any other hands than Koontz’s, might have failed. It’s a pretty brave direction for the narrative, but it’s flawlessly done. Koontz has always been very good at scaring up some effective chills, and this book is no exception, but within the framework of a paranormal, cat and mouse thriller is a story that explores some huge themes like destiny, fate, the power of imagination and creativity, and of course, the all encompassing power of love and loyalty. Bibi is one of the most interesting heroines to come along in a long, long time, and Koontz doesn’t give short shrift to his supporting players either. The sense of place is wonderful, and the magic of the Southern California coast where Bibi was raised and lives, with its sun and surf, and surfer lingo that trips off the tongue like sun rays off a freshly waxed board, is a charming contrast to what is, at times, a very,very dark story.
The author throws a lot of stuff into this book: the Holocaust, phantoms (of the literal and proverbial kind), a cold blooded killer, the mysteries of human consciousness, and of course, an utterly charming, tough heroine, and not surprisingly, it works. Ashley Bell is one of the most imaginative books I’ve ever read, and to say much more would ruin it. This book proves that, at around 100 books and counting, Koontz hasn’t lost his touch. Don’t miss this one. It’s intense, scary, joyous, utterly fantastic, and the conclusion is heartstopping.
I also highly recommend you read the two prequel novellas to Ashley Bell, Last Light and Final Hour, where you’ll meet Bibi’s closest friend, Pogo. They’re not necessary to enjoy Ashley Bell, but are a lot of fun in their own right.