Ashley Bell

Setting the stage for his thriller, Dean Koontz begins his novel, Ashley Bell, with “The year before Bibi Blair turned ten, which was twelve years before Death came calling on her, the sky was a grim vault of sorrow . . .” He attributes these words to Bibi, who at the tender age of ten already writes short stories and keeps a diary of poetic prose.

Descriptions of thrillers as opposed to mystery novels include words like suspense, intrigue, anxiety, adventure, and surprise. Ashley Bell contains all of these. Bibi faces a diagnosis of terminal cancer, a troubling memory she can’t quite call to mind, a military fiancé on a secret mission, and hovering parents. The trouble really starts when she’s told that her life has been saved so that she can save someone else. For the reader, part of the problem lies in the unreliability of Bibi’s perspective. Actually, that is part of the problem for Bibi herself.

In her search for what has happened to her and what may happen to Ashley Bell, whoever that is, she comes to the conclusion that home is more a place in the heart than a physical house, and even if a physical house is destroyed, she believes it survives as long as someone who loved it still lives. She concludes, “Home was the story of what happened there, not the story of where it happened.”

While I may be influenced to like a book because it quotes Charles Dickens – “phantoms caused by a disorder of the stomach, by an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese” – the real reason I liked the book was the constant apprehension as I tried to decipher with Bibi what was real and what was not.

I read the novel, that goes on sale December 8, in an advance copy from Net Galley. If you are looking to lose yourself in a chilling novel or to find out who Ashley Bell was, you can’t go wrong with marking out a day or so to read this book.