Can you remember the first book that unlocked the magic of reading for you? Not the first book you ever read but the first book that awoke your imagination, springing vividly to life in your mind, the book that made you fall in love with the written word. Life Expectancy by Dean Koontz was that book for me, curiously absconded from my mother’s bookshelf. Reading it always feels like sitting in the audience at a circus: it’s enchanting, daring, leaves you on the edge of your seat, filled with awe and a hint of terror, and above all, is so very clever.
We open to a man pacing a hospital corridor, both eagerly awaiting the birth of his first child and agonising over the critical condition of his beloved father. During his vigil, he meets circus clown Konrad Beezo in the maternity ward, also awaiting an update on his own bundle of joy. Drawn from his wife’s side by the news that his father, who had suffered a debilitating stroke, is demanding to see him, Rudy Tock witnesses a bizarre event in the moments before his father dies and his son is born. Josef Tock predicts five dark days in the life of his grandson Jimmy, precise dates that he ensures his son writes down – and then the shooting starts and so begins the tumultuous life of Jimmy Tock.
The five dark days of Jimmy Tock become the centrepiece that the rest of the novel is built masterfully around. Written with warmth and humour to counteract the ominous and horrific ‘dark days’, Life Expectancy was a magically terrifying read with vivid, relatable characters that jumped off the page and twists that held real shock factor. Equally imaginative and electrifying, it’s a novel I’ve read countless times over and will continue to re-read regularly.