I like haunted house stories. Andrew Pyper’s The Guardians literally kept me up all night, and I identified with Joey Tribbiani when he had to keep Stephen King’s The Shining in the freezer. Still, Dean Koontz’s 77 Shadow Street, about an apartment complex with a history of its inhabitants mysteriously disappearing, mostly left me unmoved. In fairness to Koontz, 77 Shadow Street is a solid, well-written horror/thriller. I haven’t read Koontz in years, and remember only being seriously freaked out by Tick Tock. So I can’t really say how much avid Koontz fans will enjoy 77 Shadow Street.
The books that really creep me out are those where the threat is left intangible. You can sense the malevolence, but you have no idea where it’s coming from, or what its source wants. So when Koontz introduces his antagonist in the first thirty pages as a sinuous “black form,” I was disappointed. The creature is certainly menacing enough, and at parts, downright disgusting, but I was more grossed out than creeped out. We are introduced to the One fairly early, an amorphous evil entity who announces it will kill most of the residents, and presumably as many humans as it can. Scary, yes, but its grandiose tone and generic aim lacked menace for me, more like a cartoon villain’s evil master plan than like Hannibal Lecter’s far more chilling plots.
There are chilling moments, like when a woman tries to call the concierge only to be connected to a telephone operator from the 1930s, which has a Twilight Zone-like inexplicability that I love. There are also scenes where humour enhances the horror, like when the concierge is attacked: “Until now she hadn’t realized that in her right hand she still held the fork with which she had been eating Mausi Anupama’s delicious uttapam. […] She thrust with the fork and stopped her assailant […]” The idea of using a fork to stop a supernatural creature is absurd, yet when it’s the only viable weapon on hand, you can almost cheer when it works.
The potential victims are sympathetic enough, especially the children. I don’t usually like child characters, but Winny’s desire to be a hero is charming. I also really liked the pair of sisters; they added a nice touch of eccentricity and humour. Still, there were so many characters that it got confusing at times, and while I was generally sympathetic for all of them, I didn’t really feel invested in any of them.
The story picks up a bit for me near the end, with characters coming up with possible scientific explanations. I also liked the story behind the origin of the One, and the moral dilemma it presented some of the characters. I thought the One’s motivation was fairly standard and therefore unexciting, but I did enjoy the twist in the origin story. Still, overall, 77 Shadow Street didn’t really grab me. To be honest, I might have enjoyed it more as a movie. It would’ve been a gory, entertaining scream-fest and I would’ve left the theatre with no problems turning the light off that night. But as a book, it didn’t even make me scream.