Innocence by Dean Koontz (2013)
Take one young man who was kicked out of his house by his mother went he was eight, was left to forage in the woods, and then spent the next eighteen years living underground hiding from humanity, then add an eighteen-year-old girl who cannot be touched and who has spent the last five years off the grid, and you have an interesting Beauty and the Beast scenario that could only have been dreamed of by Dean Koontz.
Addison Goodheart has a horrifying deformity, not explicitly described but one that disgusts and repels any who see his face, driving them to violence. A true innocent in the world, the boy Addison makes it into the city, hiding by day and roaming by night until he meets the man he calls Father, another deformed outcast. Father takes the boy underground, through the water mains and sewers to an abandoned three-room lair where he lives. There, Father and Addison live comfortably, though sparcely, venturing out only at night until an encounter with two policemen following a snow storm leaves Father dead. For the next eight years, Addison endures a lonely existence; one of his occasional joys is visiting the city library while it is silent at night, entering through a secret entrance.
One night there, Addison encounters a girl running from a man in the library. The girl is Gwyneth, who has spent the last five years off the grid, hiding from this man, a savage and sadistic pederast who had murdered her father when she was thirteen. Gwen, now eighteen, is incredibly wealthy and uses that wealth to stay hidden from her pursuer. Gwen, although world-wise, is another innocent who has been hiding a young girl who had been beaten and left to drown and has been in a coma ever since. Gwen is convinced that this girl is important and needs to be protected.
So that's the set-up. Addison, a man so deformed that anyone who sees his face wants to kill him, and Gwen, a girl who can't stand to be touched, and a powerful deviant who will go to any lengths to possess and then destroy her. Add in some fog creatures and some radiant insubstantial beings that only Addison can see, some bloody deaths, along with an apocalyptic threat, good dogs, Koonzian father figures, and a mysterious other-worldly purpose to the world. Mix everything up in a compelling narrative which doles out the backstory in dribs and drabs. End up with a totally unexpected but carefully planned turn in the narrative and you end up with an interesting and unsatisfying book.
Yes. Unsatisfying. In the way that we found Bobby Ewing in the shower and realized that the entire past season was a dream. In the way that bad science fiction stories end with the protagonists turning out to be Adam and Eve or with the world blowing up/being hit by a comet because the author had written himself into a corner. In the way that the solution to a puzzling mystery story relies on something that you were not told. In the way that you open a Christmas present as a kid and find that it's underwear. In a way that twelve bad guys in a spaghetti western run into town to kill the hero and the hero kills eleven bad guys for the happy ending because the director lost count of how many bad guys there were. That kind of unsatisfying.
But, as I also said, the book is compelling. Koontz make you want to turn the page, and the next page, and the next... This book has been called a major departure for Koontz and, in a way, it is. And, in a way, it is standard-issue Koontz. Take your pick.
The world is divided into three camps: those who like Koontz's books; those who don't; and those -- like me -- keep reading them even though their flaws and their predictability keep beating them over the head.
I'll be on board for the next book. And I'll most likely enjoy it. And I will most likely be kicking myself for enjoying it.