Watchers is not only one of my favorites by Dean Koontz, but one of my favorites of all time. I read it for the first time when I was…maybe twelve or thirteen. My dad recommended it to me while I was still very much in my V. C. Andrews phase, and rather reluctant to branch out. When he suggested I read Watchers, he not only gave me one of my favorite books ever, but also opened the door to a pretty long Dean Koontz obsession (which, though tapering off a bit since I’ve been in college, is still relatively strong). Reading Dean Koontz also got me into Stephen King, with whom I have also had a somewhat tumultuous love affair since I was about thirteen.
When it comes to these thriller writers, in my opinion, go for the old stuff, written in the 1980s/early 1990s. Almost everything that I’ve read that’s any later than 1998 or so hasn’t been that good, especially of Koontz. Watchers, along with a few other Koontz favorites of mine, was written in the late 80s, and is totally free of the “I really need to write an entire book by this deadline so here you go” vibe that a lot of his later work seems to have. Don’t get me wrong, I do like some of Koontz’s later books, but there isn’t the same love and attention to detail put into each character and each scenario that I see in his earlier work.
Watchers is the story of Einstein, a genetically altered golden retriever whose intelligence rivals that of a man. When he escapes from a lab in Irvine, California, he is not the only genetically altered animal let loose on the world: soon after Einstein’s escape, another lab animal, The Outsider, makes a break. Linked to the retriever by an uncanny instinctual awareness that the lab scientists don’t understand, The Outsider follows Einstein across the state of California, intent on only one thing: killing the dog.
But Einstein is not the only one in danger. Engineered as a killing machine intended for wartime, The Outsider is a ruthless predator who cannot curb its thirst for blood. Everyone in its path, especially Travis and Nora, the man and woman who “adopt” Einstein, is in jeopardy. The incredible risks Travis and Nora take to protect Einstein at all costs, from a myriad of threats that includes The Outsider, NSA agents, and a deranged hitman, make for a thrilling story of love and loyalty.
There are so many reasons I love this book that if I were to talk about all of them, this entry would take up six pages, so I’ll stick to the main ones. First, I love the way it’s organized. It’s written from a third person perspective, but the narration jumps from character to character. The primary points of view are Travis Cornell, Nora Devon, Lemuel Johnson, and Vince Nasco (and, to a lesser extent, Garrison Dilworth) and they all start out almost completely separately. It’s so cool to watch all the plot points gradually fall together like puzzle pieces as the characters eventually drift into each other’s narrations.
Second, I love the characters. (You’ll probably notice this is a trend in my favorite books.) Even the villains are so despicable that they’re lovable in a weird way. And what makes them so charming is that they’re so real. I know people like Nora, Travis, and Lem, and I can sympathize with them. Even Vince, a ruthlessly efficient hitman, is endearing in his insanity. It feels like I know the characters personally (though that could be the effect of having read it so many times).
Finally, I love the themes. The extreme loyalty of all the characters in this book really gets me, and whether it’s loyalty to one’s job or to one’s loved ones or just loyalty to one’s morals and ideals, this is a book about the power of loyalty, and to an even greater extent, the power of love. The romantic love that exists between couples, the platonic love that exists between friends, the obsessive love of a career, and the pure love a dog feels for his owners all figure into an overarching theme that is particularly common in Koontz’s work: although faith and love are not all that one needs to get through the most trying experiences of human existence, they are undeniably indispensable. A little corny, I know, but it’s not heavy-handed at all, and that makes it terrific.
Well, I think I’ve babbled on enough for now. Bottom line is I love this book, and I think everyone else should read it and love it as much as I do.