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Published: Saturday, 1/17/2009

Koontz goes to the heart in new thriller

BY DAVID YONKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Ryan Perry s life was about as perfect as can be too perfect, in fact, for a lead character in a Dean Koontz thriller. It would be only a matter of time until something went terribly wrong in the life of the 34-year-old dot.com millionaire.

Koontz has covered a multitude of fiction genres during his long and successful writing career, but when he turns his attention to suspense thrillers there are few authors who can match him for sheer page-turning power.

His plots are compelling and unpredictable, the characters engaging, and the wording as sleek and on-target as a guided missile. Anything can happen, and not just within the usual confines of natural law and order.

Ghosts, ghouls, and psychopaths can put the most heroic figures in unpredictable, and often uncharted, predicaments.

In Your Heart Belongs To Me, Koontz does not conjure up any ghosts or dabble in the supernatural, although there are a few harrowing moments when the reader will wonder if otherworldy forces are at work.

And the late William Holden makes a few appearances, but only in dreams.

Perry, the main character, is hit early and hit hard with a realistic and common enemy: heart problems.

The story opens with a leisurely day at the beach, the wealthy bachelor driving his perfectly restored anthracite-black 51 Ford Woodie Wagon to Balboa Peninsula for a day of surfing with his girlfriend, Samantha.

With masterful economy of words, Koontz reveals the deep attraction Perry has for Samantha when he spots her on the beach: As perfect as a mirage, blond hair and golden form, a quiver of light, an alluring oasis on the wide slope of sun-seared sand.

The couple take turns shooting the curls, gliding through waves that turn tubular, and generally enjoying a dream day on the waves, when Perry begins to feel a pounding in his chest. The pounding hits as fast and as hard as a jackhammer. The world becomes dim and Perry clutches his surfboard for dear life as the waves roll by.

At his age and in his prime physical and social position, he brushes it off as an anxiety attack. But the symptoms return, however, worse than the previous time.

His doctor runs tests and gives him a bleak diagnosis: A hypertrophic, or enlarged, heart. Further tests show conclusively that the cause of the disease is cardiomyopathy, an abnormality of heart-muscle fibers.

Perry is given a year to live, with only one option for treatment: a transplant.

When his doctor reviews possible causes of the heart ailment, Perry seizes on one word among many: poison.

One of the negative side effects of a meteoric business career and immense wealth is the potential to make enemies, and Koontz takes readers down the twisted and torturous path of paranoia as Perry begins using his money and influence to investigate potential threats. Each of his theories about possible enemies has its own dark logic and rationalization, but it soon becomes apparent that there are no speed bumps on the slippery slope of paranoia. Perry s vast resources only worsen this condition, enabling him to hire people to go places and do things that would never be possible for people of more modest means.

Meanwhile, Perry s condition both physical and emotional strains his relationship with Samantha, a successful journalist and would-be author. As his frame of mind deteriorates more rapidly than his heart, Perry s single-minded pursuit of a solution reveals a ruthlessness that troubles Samantha.

You re scaring me, she tells him.

Why? he asks.

Can t you hear yourself? You re trying to handle this, take charge, but it s fundamentally not yours to take charge of.

Perry continues to search for answers, however, blind to his own moral and ethical choices and the redefining of his priorities. His weak grip on sanity and safety is further threatened by a mysterious woman with stealth-like powers and a Dr. Kevorkian-like death merchant who collects plasticized cadavers,

Koontz keeps readers guessing every step of the way, building the suspense until the plot seems ready to burst and then, in a brilliant finale, ties all the threads together as Perry finds peace and reconciliation in a most unlikely way.

Your Heart Belongs To Me is another gem from a master of suspense that raises a number of profound questions while letting readers discover the answers for themselves, both in the plot and in their lives.

Contact David Yonke at:dyonke@theblade.com or 419-724-6154.



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