Intensity by Dean Koontz – Book Review

Intensity by Dean Koontz has a great premise. A woman is hiding under a bed, she sees blood drip in front of black boots. A man she doesn’t know is walking around her room, searching for more victims. The family she’s visiting has already been murdered. Sounds like this could be an exciting and thrilling and horrifying book right? Well it would have been if it wasn’t marred by terrible prose and the dullest female protagonist of all time. Dean Koontz has a mastery of vocabulary both extensive and obscure, but the fanciest of words do not a suspenseful novel make.


Let’s start at the beginning, shall we?


“The red sun balances on the highest ramparts of the mountains, and in its waning light, the foothills appear to be ablaze. A cool breeze blows down out of the sun and fans through the tall dry grass, which streams like waves of golden fire along the slopes toward the rich and shadowed valley.”


Umm, okay. Interesting (in a not interesting) way to start your horror novel. I read this sample when I wanted to test out the book to see if I would like it before buying it. I thought that the prose felt a little too purpley but it wasn’t deal breaker to stop me from purchasing it. I wanted a horror novel for the month of October and this seemed like a good candidate as any.


By the time I got to the dialogue, it was too late to turn back.


“You’ve got a heavy foot,” Chyna said.

Laura grinned. “Better than a big butt.”

“You’ll get us killed.”

“Mom has rules about being late for dinner.”

“Being late is better than being dead for dinner.”

“You’ve never met my mom. She’s hell on rules.”

“So is the highway patrol.”

Laura laughed. “Sometimes you sound just like her.”


“My mom.”


The dialogue seems harmless enough right? A tad on the corny side but nothing atrocious, right? I convinced myself to keep going.


“Man, I love speed,” Laura said.

“I hate it.”

“I like to move, streak, fly. Hey, maybe I was a gazelle in a previous life. You think?”

Chyna looked at the speedometer and grimaced. “Yeah, maybe a gazelle–or a madwoman locked away in Bedlam.”


WHO TALKS LIKE THAT? Granted, this book was published in 1987 but still, no one talked like that in the 80’s. So already the believability of these characters has flown out the window of this speeding car. These are not old women, they’re young adults. I was starting to feel buyer’s remorse but maybe, just maybe when the killer shows up things will get better.


And it did, for a time. Though it was interesting (not exciting) to watch Chyna evade the killer, it became tedious and boring by excessive and I mean EXCESSIVE description on every thought and action Chyna made. “I shouldn’t go into the bathroom because the killer might notice me. I shouldn’t move from under the bed because he might sense my presence. I can’t attack him head on because he’s stronger than me. I can–” BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH!!!!!! F***! SO FRUSTRATING!


A horror novel set in contemporary United States shouldn’t be meandering on useless details and character thoughts. If maybe the girl was transported to a horror nightmare world where walls were made of human skin, then yes by all means, add in those descriptions. In this context, it just makes Chyna an uninteresting and bland character. The author bludgeons you over the head with the same, repetitive message. “Do you get it? Chyna is weak! See her thoughts? See how she can’t act? Chyna’s weak! Hang on, let me tell you about her abused childhood and show you how weak she was then. DO YOU GET IT? CHYNA IS WEAK!”




How did this become a New York Times Best Seller? How? Where was the fear? Where was the suspense? I didn’t care about what would happen to Chyna because she was so dull. The book would have been more interesting if it was from the perspective of Laura, Chyna’s friend who dies at the beginning of the book. Spoilers? Who cares, don’t read this boring novel.


Ironically, the antagonist Edgler Vess was an interesting character. Maybe not ironic but rather a pity that our villain proved to be more interesting than our heroine. I know that great villains are what makes the most interesting stories but at the same time we need a protagonist to root for. I never wanted Edgler to win but I also didn’t feel that Chyna deserved to win either.


Also, why is this book so freaking long? 450 pages I believe? None of the content in this book justifies it’s bloated page count. I can summarize it for you in one sentence. Killer murders family, girl chases after killer, killer chases girl, drama, end book. Oh I know why it was bloated. THERE WAS TOO MUCH DESCRIPTION!


A horror novel doesn’t have to move at a breakneck pace but it also shouldn’t languish on needless description. There should have been less focus on Chyna’s thoughts and the environment and more focus on actions. Where Koontz’s descriptions were actually appropriate and well done was in describing the murder scenes, dead bodies, and a scene towards the end involving dogs. These scenes were extremely visual and engaging to the point that I wish the entire novel had been written this way.


Overall, if you’re looking for a book that will frighten you and make you want to leave the lights on at night, Intensity is not the one for you. It wasn’t the worst book I’ve read, it wasn’t even a runner up, but it’s definitely in my top list of worst books ever.


Two stars.

Wilmar Luna