The Door to December by Dean Koontz

Dean R Koontz started his career about 1965 with some science fiction novels that received less than overwhelming approval from reviewers and fans. By the early 1970s he was writing crime thrillers under pen names.

As the incredible success of Stephen King and Anne Rice transformed horror in the field of publishing from an occasional book into its own separate genre, Koontz combined his science fiction background with his thriller background to come up with a style of contemporary dark fantasy that few others can pull off.

THE DOOR TO DECEMBER opens with brutal murderers of three men and the discovery of a nine year old girl – Melanie – taken from her mother six years previously by her father, after their divorce. Her father was one of the murdered men.

Dan Haldane is the police detective working the case, and the love that grows between him and Melanie's mother is so obvious as to be an inconsequential sideshow.

Turns out that her father along with his associates kept Melanie a prisoner in the "gray room" – which contains a sensory isolation tank, a biofeedback machine and an aversion therapy device which includes electrodes to shock people.

The father and another psychologist at UCLA were obviously conducting bizarre experiments on Melanie.

Melanie is a difficult figure. She's the central figure of the book, in more ways than one, yet because of the emotional and mental damage done to her by her father, she does not have or react as a normal child. She barely does anything at all (on the outside), giving us readers little reason to like her or feel for her. It takes Koontz's skill to bring her to life to the reader. We pity her because the two tough men (Dan Haldane and a hired security guard) do so.

But Haldane's most immediate problem is to figure out how the three men were killed. Their bodies are so smashed and battered in so many different ways that they defy forensic analysis. A team of gorillas could not have done it.

Melanie goes back to her mother, and more trouble follows. More people are horribly murdered, including the owner of an occult book and supply store in a classic, locked room mystery.

While Dan runs down clues, he gets Melanie's mother to hire a security guard and he is drawn into the drama. This to me is a dramatic flaw, because as a good tough guy protecting Melanie, he's a duplicate of Dan.

I suspect most readers will figure out the basic truth long before Dan. But that enables Koontz to follow a chain of rogue sadistic psychologists and an occult author to the government who wants to achieve complete mind control and social slavery over us all.

Other flaws: I could not believe that as a child psychologist herself Melanie's mother would try to treat her traumatized daughter by herself. Or that she would try to put the child under hypnosis right away, after she'd obviously just escaped from an extensive experience in a sensory isolation tank. She's obviously so stupid we start to understand why she was blind enough to his faults as to marry Melanie's father in the first place.

I could never believe the police background. And Dan's continual wisecracks never seemed funny to me. I kept wishing he'd shut up.

Yet the dark conspiracy of psychology / occultism / secret government projects was powerful enough to keep me reading long after I figured out what the "It" was that was murdering people and seemed to be threatening Melanie and her mother.

And once I did, I did not believe that It was a threat to Melanie herself. I'm not convinced it would have been – except for dramatic reasons – because I do not think a child who'd never be socialized would feel guilty about preserving her own life.

Somehow, despite all flaws, Koontz novels are always worth reading.