Volume 013, Number 1, Winter, 1995

Dark Rivers of the Heart

By Dean R. Koontz

(Knopf, $24.00, 487 pages)
Reviewed by Anders Monsen
March 1995

Dark Rivers of the Heart is a numbingly brilliant piece of work that transcends all other Koontz' previous novels. This novel's libertarian radicalism burns with fierce intensity; rarely in any modern novel has the state faced such moral accusation and indignation.

Spencer Grant, a loner with a dark and hidden past, meets Valerie Keens, a waitress who also hides a troubled past. When Valerie fails to show the next day, Grant seeks out her apartment, where he is caught in a SWAT raid. Showing reflexes hinting special abilities, Grant evades the SWAT team only to be caught up in a larger search for Keene. The tense action and pace, along with the gradually unraveling mysteries, hurtle the reader forward. The hunter/killers after Keene turn out to be the government, represented by a secret, powerful agency resembling the worst of the FBI, IRS, and ATF. As the novels reveals, the murderous nature of this agency in our society is no aberration.

Grant's and Keene's pursuers muster a wide and dazzling array of hi-tech surveillance, which seemingly grants them the upper hand. Yet Keene and Grant are not without their own bag of techno-tricks. Like the most able cyberpunk they display knowledge of modern and futuristic technology. They hack into virtually any computer system in the world to delay, confuse and outwit the agents on their trail.

Woven into the fast-paced plot is a scary political reality, not unfamiliar to libertarian nightmare visions. A government that uses the law to crush and destroy the lives and worlds of innocent individuals is more real than people imagine: asset forfeiture laws, burdening regulations, agencies that operate like arrogant fiefdoms, these are facts in American life, not extrapolated fiction.

Minor subplots in the novel draw these images in horrific detail. The underground battling these abuses hovers in the background, an important but not integral part of the novel. Interestingly, the individuals fighting at the forefront are recent immigrants, who long held high the image of America as land of the free and home of the brave, only to have Uncle Sam crush their fantasy. Koontz' bitter and anti-statist afterword will draw attention, and hopefully, action.

A power resonates through this novel on every level. Despite some nagging dialogue and minor technical details, Dark Rivers etches a searing attack on the state, and its superb plotting, memorable characterization, and political realism argue its case as one of the most readable political novels ever.

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