The “Nameless” Series, by Dean Koontz (digital collection) — a review

I’ve owned other digital books. But, I believe this may be the first time I’ve ever owned professionally written fiction that exists only in digital form.

I downloaded all six of these novella-length stories onto my Kindle Fire a while back. They were either free to me as an Amazon Prime member, or so cheap I couldn’t resist plunking down the spare change.

Dean and I go way back. In fact, I remember him when he was balding and wore a mustache, and resembled G. Gordon Liddy.

I think I first read his stuff around 1980. Whispers was probably the first, but certainly not the last. I know that I later read a smattering of his older books, and, certainly, most of his ’80s output, but then Koontz kept publishing at such a pace that I was either going to miss a few or else read nothing but his books for the rest of my life. I still read quite a few of his novels over the following decades, but no more than ten percent, I’d wager. He’s in his mid-70s now and still publishing one or two books most years.

I’m lukewarm on Koontz, to tell you the truth.

At his best, he is a very good storyteller. His prose is always clear, and he knows how to build suspense. In fact, most of his output would probably be considered suspense thrillers. But, he’s one of those authors who will surprise you by veering off into horror, science-fiction or fantasy without warning.

His characters, in my memory, may not be so shallow that I would consider them to be two-dimensional, but they are darned close. On the other hand, Koontz almost always seems to have a positive outlook and message in his fiction, and, like me, he is a dog-lover—so much so that we seem to have a canine character in most of the books.

I can’t honestly write that I’ve ever hated anything I’ve read by Koontz. But, I’ve also never read anything by Koontz that I was over-the-moon about either.

A few of his novels that I have recommended to others include Watchers, The Face of Fear, Phantoms, Darkfall, and a mid-’90s oddity titled Dragon Tears. I think these five were slightly better than all the other Koontz novels I’ve read. Considering his bibliography includes more than a hundred books, this is still a pitiable sampling of his total output.

I can say, however, that I’ve now read the first thing Koontz published on a digital-only platform. Six things, in fact. This was a digital collection of six novellas (or perhaps novelettes, if there’s a distinction) featuring the same protagonist, an amnesiac who seems to be some sort of master hitman who completes missions for the Ace of Diamonds—a person or shadowy organization—helping those whom the justice system has been unable to help.

These aren’t mysteries. At least, not in the traditional sense of the word. Our amnesiac hitman—the “Nameless” of the series title—retains memories of missions he has completed, but nothing before then, except flashes that could be memories or perhaps premonitions, because he seems to have some sort of psychic abilities as well. So, the secret of our protagonist’s identity is a mystery, certainly. At least, until the final story. The organization he works for seems to have unlimited resources and technical abilities, and he seems to trust them implicitly, even though he doesn’t consciously know who they are.

Most stories like this would have their nameless hitman begin to question his actions, or the people controlling him. But, that never happens in these stories. We find out during the final novella, Memories of Tomorrow, why that is; when the answer comes, it’s not entirely satisfying, even though Koontz played fair with the clues and the answer fits rather neatly.

I guess this series resides under the suspense thriller banner like most of Koontz’s books, even though there’s honestly very little suspense. After the first story, we understand that Nameless is always better prepared than all of his opponents, with better intel, abilities and plans. The thrilling part of each story is exactly how Nameless will defeat the antagonist, not whether or not he will. All six of these stories have a similar structure, and end in similar ways. Very few surprises. Although the question of Nameless’ identity is an overarching Story Question throughout, it doesn’t seem to be a mystery that Nameless is eager to solve. The novellas themselves are more episodic than serialized. An excellent test of the digital-only concept, but not really excellent fiction in and of itself.

The premise isn’t as original as some reviewers seem to think it is.

Forget for a moment that the handle of “Nameless” will always be owned by Bill Pronzini’s Nameless Detective as far as I’m concerned. There’s really no other similarity to the rumpled San Francisco p.i. However, there’s more than a passing similarity to Lawrence Block’s Keller series. Keller wasn’t an amnesiac—and he had a name—but the conceit of the story was that he was an otherwise average, normal guy who occasionally received a phone call from White Plains with orders to kill some stranger. I know, that’s not exactly the same. Similar.

Because I am who I am, I also thought that the character of Nameless seemed a lot like Agent 47 from the hit video game franchise Hitman. Agent 47 is bald, with a barcode tattooed on the back of his head, and his default outfit is a black Reservoir Dogs suit (come to think of it: Jules and Vincent wore similar attire in Pulp Fiction). While the character of 47 does get a rather convoluted backstory during the series (he’s the 47th clone created from the DNA of five different French Foreign Legion soldiers, or something like that), he is much like Nameless in the Koontz stories in that he is pretty much a blank slate and receives missions from a central source and carries them out, without mercy.

I know that there have been movies based on the video games. I chose not to discuss them, because it benefits no one to revisit those horrible cash grabs. I admire the work of Timothy Olyphant overall, but he was a bad casting choice for Agent 47 in that first movie. If ever a role demanded Jason Statham . . .

But, I digress—

These Koontz stories are a form of revenge fantasy, pure and simple. I’m not against such fiction as a rule (much of Tarantino’s movies would fall under that heading as well), and these are well-written, in clear plain prose with little embellishment. I don’t consider these to be an instant classic, and I really doubt anyone will be reading them twenty years from now. But, they weren’t an unpleasant way to pass the time.

This sounds like a lukewarm review, doesn’t it? Can’t say I didn’t warn you.

Firewater’s A-Vigilante-Nomad-Stripped-of-His-Memories-and-Commissioned-to-Kill Report Card: C+

Just meh, if I’m allowed to use this freshly-minted term. You probably won’t regret reading these stories, if you’re already a Koontz fan. Otherwise, you’re not really missing anything.

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