For the last couple of years, I have dedicated the majority of my reading time to that wonderful “master of horror,” Stephen King. Lately, I have felt the need to branch out from Stephen King, but still stay firmly within the horror genre (I love being scared). A couple of years ago a friend of mine recommended I read a Dean Koontz novel titled Intensity. It sat on my shelf collecting dust until just recently. I have never read anything by Koontz as far as I can remember, but his name frequently comes up when discussing horror fiction. After reading Intensity, I understand why.
Intensity spends its first chapter introducing the reader to the protagonist, and ultimately one of only a handful of characters that actually appear in the story, Chyna (China) Shepherd. Chyna is a woman with very, very few friends who has spent most of her adult life escaping the horrors inflicted on her by an immature, irresponsible mother and her parade of abusive boyfriends. Her only real friend is Laura, a woman she met in college. The novel begins with Chyna and Laura driving into California’s Napa Valley to spend a few weeks with Laura’s family. All is well until Chyna, shortly after midnight whilst sitting alone in the guest bedroom, is overwhelmed with a sense of imminent danger and hides beneath the bed. A stranger comes into her room moments later, dripping blood onto the floor, searching for any other occupants of the house. From here, the novel sets an almost constant, intense pace as Chyna relentlessly tries to stay hidden from the attacker and at the same time stop him from comitting anymore atrocities.
This book is the definition of a page-turner. It alternates between Chyna’s terrified perspective to the deranged and seemingly superhuman mind of the serial killer. While you may be able to guess how the story resolves itself, the journey to that ending is packed with twists and turns that are unexpected, and yet in the context of the story, logical events in the context of the unfolding drama. Chyna is a well-written and sympathetic character. I had no trouble at all understanding her motivations and convictions. This is ultimately the result of a well-developed back story that unfolds throughout the narrative. There are many points in the story where I was desperately hoping Chyna would not succumb to the seemingly inevitable insanity of her situation.
This book is rich with tension, violence and scares. Koontz does a fantastic job of sucking the reader into the personal drama that unfolds between Chyna and the killer and at times you feel as though you are right there, hiding in the stiff, uncomfortable stairwell of the killers motor home as it travels along the desolate redwood forests of the Northern California wilderness.
If I have one criticism about this book, its that Chyna’s epiphanies about how to handle specific situations don’t seem entirely realistic. Things seem to be conveniently placed for her to use to her advantage. However, every one of these objects is justified in its existance within the story. It is merely her luck or ingenuity that is slightly unbelievable.
If you are a fan of the genre, or if you’re in the mood for one of those rare books that you find yourself reading well into the night when you should be sleeping because you can’t seem to find the courage to put the book down, this is definitely for you. Its a fast read and the journey, though brutal and horrific throughout, is definitely worth it.