Berkeley G.P. Putnam’s Son Edition Feb 1987 483 pages
Hook: On his thirty-six birthday, May 18, Travis Cornell rose at 5:00 in the morning.
The setting is Santa Barbara, Santiago Canyon on the eastern edge of Orange County, south of Los Angeles. Travis carries a .38 Chief’s Special. He came to shoot snakes but decides they have more pleasure in life right now than him. A golden retriever finds him, not a year old. It has dried blood on its right ear. When he tries to go further into the canyon, the dog bars his path from dirt path. Something was coming, but what? Peculiar, heavy, ragged breathing of something big. He takes out gun, wondering if threat is a man. He fires warning shots but it races to cut them of at top of canyon. Travis realizes this and he and the dog beat it there. He still doesn’t know what it is.
Meanwhile, a hired professional killer, Vincent Nasco performs a hit on Dr. Dave Weatherby. He thanks the dead doctor.
The dog shows Travis that he knows what Travis is talking about. He decides to keep it.
Nora Devon is afraid of TV repairman. Twenty-eight, she lived under the thumb of Aunt Violet. Her aunt died a year ago but the shadow of her hate remains. Nora tells Alan Streck (the repairman) she has a husband. She does not feel safe even as he drives away.
Vince receives instructions to go to a phone booth for another job.
The repairman calls Nora. He says he called the police station and no one ever heard of her husband.
Travis returns to Santa Barbara home. He gives dog a bath—dog turns water on itself. Says he has to think of just the right name. He has something to live for, for the first time in three years.
Vince’s next victims are Dr. Elisabeth Yarbeck and her husband, an attorney. He thanks the husband, thanks her for the gift of death. He loves to kill, would do so even if not paid.
The dog searches through books on Travis’ shelves. He gets Travis a beer from fridge.
Nora gets more phone calls from Streck. Brings butcher knife to her bedside stand. Imagines she sees movement.
Dog forms a question mark with bones after Travis tells him he’d gone to that canyon depressed with no joy left in life. Travis is going to tell him why but first he names him: Einstein.
Streck calls again. Nora thinks she’s too homely for him to be obsessed with her.
Travis’ mother died in childbirth. His brother died when he was ten in a drowning. His dad died in car accident when Travis was fourteen. All these times, he was with them and should’ve died but didn’. He thinks he’s jinxed. Married four years ago Pamela—she died of cancer ten months later. He’s been brooding ever since but Einstein changed his mind in a day. He tells dog not to die on him.
Streck continues to call. Nora determines to be a different woman, less of a recluse. She wants to get to know her neighbors. She’s only dealt with her lawyer. Her aunt’s lawyer. She gets groceries delivered.
Vince is given new assignment—Dr. Albert Hadston. The woman says they want a pattern of the victims—one that will rub salt in the wounds. He absorbs life energy of victims. He finds out three doctors worked together in Orange County. The Francis Project. An experiment. The dogs. He plans to sell the information.
The creature kills Wes Dalberg.
The dog is worried about whatever stalked them in the woods, Travis realizes. Einstein remains on guard.
Nora goes for a long walk as first sign of independence. She’s eating lunch in a park when Streck sits beside her. He says he’ll be moving in for a while. Einstein interrupts Streck and Nora. He acts like her pet. Travis realizes the woman’s in trouble. Streck leaves. Nora insists she’s okay when Travis offers to find a policeman. She heads in opposite direction of Streck. Throughout the day, Travis can’t forget her.
Vincent goes looking for Dr. Lawton Haines in Acapulco, Mexico. He kills third girl he finds with the doctor and kidnaps him. The people he’d killed the others for decided to use him for the fourth murder. He intends to find out more about The Francis Project. Does not kiss Haines as other victims, considers him unclean.
Nora had felt safe with Einstein. She wonders if Travis is like Streck. She decides she wants to buy Einstein but doesn’t want Travis to bother her like Streck.
Einstein is riveted by the phone. He gets a phone book and wants Travis to call somebody. The lady on the bench. Einstein tries to get out the door. Travis realizes the woman’s in trouble. He goes to get phone book.
Nora prepares food. Phone rings. Thinks it’s Streck so doesn’t answer.
Einstein takes phone book out to truck. Travis agrees to find her.
Streck is lying on Nora’s bed. She runs downstairs but he follows.
Einstein runs to door, hits bell. A man hollers in pain; a woman cried for help. Travis breaks window glass, gets in. Einstein corners Streck while Travis calls police.
And that’s just the beginning of this exceptionally good story. I loved the fact that Nora was a “mouse” at the beginning of the book and goes through such a transformation by the end. Travis does too. He comes out of his dark place into the light of hope. Einstein is an incredibly remarkable dog who you come to love as well. The character arcs are written superbly from Vince to the NSA agent assigned to get back the dog and put The Outsider down. Even The Outsider has an arc. You both pity and are horrified by it.
I found the book to be everything the headlines said it was and can’t believe it took me so long to read it. I saw the first movie made about Watchers with Corey Haim years ago but knew it differed greatly from the book itself. I’m glad I finally took the time to read it. Everything came together perfectly in it, the horror, the pain, the love, even hope. I hope to bring a mixture of the same ingredients Koontz used in his book in my own writing. The recipe worked amazingly well. We writers learn from other writers, it’s how we improve. I encourage those of you who do so to read and read widely. For those of you who just want a great read: this is it.