Horror author Dean Koontz's books vary in quality now and then. Gladly, One Door Away From Heaven is Koontz in top form.
It is not one story but three, all interwoven into one novel. "Micky" Bellsong is a primary character of one story, along with a young nine-year-old girl named Leilani Klonk. Micky is a beautiful young woman with a less than beautiful past, an ex-con and current alcoholic searching for a better life. She moves in with her pleasantly deranged aunt who is constantly confusing her true reality with that of the movies she's seen throughout her life, this due to a gunshot wound she suffered to her head during a robbery of her and her husband's store. Her husband was killed during the same robbery and she misses him to this day. Was she a girlfriend of Humphrey Bogart's or not? Sometimes she thinks she was.
Leilani Klonk introduces herself to Micky one day, calling herself a "mutant". Leilani is amazingly precocious, bright and funny. She is also slightly crippled and wears a brace on her leg; one of her hands is deformed. She is, however, proud of her pretty face, as people treat her like a normal person when they see only that face. It's when they see the rest of her that they treat her differently. Leilani, during the course of her conversations with Micky, says that she lives with a mother who is constantly high on drugs and a step-father who is a serial killer -- and one of his victims was none other than her own bother. She suspects that someday the man will kill her as well! She tells Micky all this with the same tone as if she'd said the man worked in a bank, and Micky assumes that Leilani is making it all up to get attention. Even the reader assumes that, at first, and it is only later along in the book, that we discover that Leilani is telling nothing but the horrifying truth.
The second story revolves around a ten-year-old boy who is fleeing for his life. His parents have been brutally murdered and their killers seek his death as well. He is also being hunted by the FBI for reasons initially left unsaid. The boy is being hunted with a mysterious urgency that implies the killing of his parents was not ordinary murder. Needing food and clothes, the boy sneaks into a house at night and there takes a bite to eat and some warm clothes to wear. No sooner does he exit than behind him he hears screams. Those chasing him somehow knew he entered the house, went in after him and then killed the innocents who lived there!. Only the family dog survives the killings. The dog comes running up to him afterwards and he and it subsequently become friends and traveling companions. The boy feels terrible that the family died, knowing that he in part was the cause of their deaths
The third story is that of Noah Farrel, a private eye. His beloved sister lies in a hospital bed in a coma induced by having been beaten on the head as a child. Noah is devoted to his sister and indeed he works as a private eye primarily to make the money needed to keep her adequately taken care of. He sees her constantly and talks to her by her bedside, convinced that she somehow hears his voice and that someday she will wake and tell him what he said. He blames himself for what happened to her.
What separates One Door Away from Heaven from many other "suspense/fantasy" books of its kind is the intelligence and the humor with which it's written. Much of the humor comes from the characterization of Micky's slightly crazy aunt, who often mistakes movies for real life, but much also comes from the character of the small boy fleeing for his life across the country. He is takes everything said to him quite literally, unacquainted, it seems, with the concept of metaphor. His humorous responses to what is said to him or in what he reads result, as when he goes to a fair:
"They offer packaged snack foods like potato chips...and jars of 'Grandma's locally famous' black-bean-and-corn salsa which a sign promises is 'hot enough to blow your head clean off'."
The boy cannot conceive of how anyone's head can be decapitated cleanly and is amazed at the line of suicidal people lining up to buy the product. Why do they want to blow their heads clean off, he wonders.
Leilani's step-father, Preston Maddox, a truly horrific villain, declares his purpose in killing is to bring more happiness into the world. I guess the road to hell is truly paved with good intentions, if we concede that bringing more happiness into the world is a good intention. Here is a character of the purest evil who allows Koontz to state his own objections to the concept of "utilitarian bioethics," a way of thinking that is currently being espoused by some in medicine. In his author's note at the end of the novel, he advises readers who want to know more about this concept to read Culture of Death: The Assault on Medical Ethics by Wesley J. Smith. He states that this nonfiction book is more terrifying than any novel. If Preston Maddox is any example of what this philosophy might produce, it'd be best that it be understood and fought against by all.
Although the book's ending is one of rousing action that will please most of Koontz's fans, it seems to be the equivalent of putting a car chase on the end of a superior movie just for the sake of having a car chase. An ending more thoughtful and as intelligent as the rest of the novel would have served much better. There is also the instance of a main character revealing his/her true identity, at great danger to him/herself, for no real reason.
Despite these small objections, many will probably applaud the ending. It is a climax that certainly makes it hard to put the book down until the last page is read. One Door Away From Heaven is a great page-turner, one of Dean Koontz's best and highly recommended.