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‘Ashley Bell’ rises to top of Koontz’s best

Dean Koontz outdoes himself with his latest journey, which solidifies his reputation as one of the best storytellers in the book business.

Koontz’s stories get labeled as horror, but the lyrical writing and compelling characters in “Ashley Bell” aren’t commonly seen in that particular genre. Koontz stands alone, and this novel is a prime example of literary suspense if one is forced to classify.

Bibi Blair lives by herself, is engaged to a Navy SEAL and has published a novel and several short stories. One day while sitting at her computer, one side of her body starts to tingle and she realizes something is wrong. Doctors run tests and determine that she has a rare form of brain cancer. Even with chemotherapy, she has at most a year to live. She tells her doctor, “We’ll see.” That’s when the novel takes off.

Blair has a miraculous recovery, and she doesn’t understand why until a mysterious woman gives her a psychic reading, revealing that she’s lived so that she can save a woman named Ashley Bell. Who is this woman, and what does Blair need to do to save her?

Evil people want to harm Bell, and they’re determined to eliminate Blair as well. She’s cheated death once and feels that it’s her destiny to save Bell. What Blair doesn’t realize is that Bell has ties to her past, and various people she’s known might be involved in what has become a vast conspiracy.

Elements of other Koontz novels are on display, such as a prominent plot point involving a golden retriever and a diabolical villain who’s both charismatic and cruel.

How our lives are shaped by our memories and how much our childhood influences our adulthood are prominent themes of “Ashley Bell.” The major plot twist comes a bit early, and the book flirts with being too bulky. But Koontz knows what he’s doing, and the baffling story with the stellar character of Bibi Blair makes this thriller one of his best.

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