Although I have not yet read Dean Koontz’s Jane Hawk series, I know them to be thrillers following the adventures of an FBI agent embroiled in paranoia-inducing double crosses and investigations. Cover copy tells me that much. Between the second and third volumes of that particular series, the author released a novella about one of Jane’s cases exclusively to audiobook. It is a two hour tale, a thriller that relates Jane’s investigation into The Mother Hater, a serial killer who kidnaps young women and sends two pictures of them to their mothers. The first of these is snapped after capture and the second is taken after death. Gruesome, no?
Well, Jane Hawk and her partner Gary Burkett are on the case, and the trail has led them to a family farm in Pennsylvania. Here, noted former politician Mercer resides. His family has some ties to the latest victim. He’s obviously hiding something, his answers are too well performed to fool Jane’s professional lie detector, but she cannot be sure just what his involvement in the crimes are or even if his deceptions are not simply something born, bred and nurtured from a life in politics. He is a trained performer, after all.
As it turns out, Mercer is most definitely involved in the Mother Hater crimes, but not in the way Jane expects.
The Bone Farm: A Jane Hawk Case File shifts back and forth in chapters that alternate between Jane’s perspective (read by performer Elizabeth Rodgers) and Mercer’s own journals (read by James Anderson Foster). The Jane Hawk material offers the fast pacing and intensity we expect from Koontz’s thrillers. Jane playing a game of cat and mouse with her prey before a twist shows up and throws everything into the proverbial fan. The character shines through as a dedicated mom and a hard-working agent. She is ethical, courageous and intelligent, a solid heroic character.
The journals are an intriguing look into the psychopath’s mind. They are written in third person—no I, me or we only he to refer to the narrator—and at first they seem like one more example of the flashback chapters found in those serial killer books that boomed along with the horror genre back in the eighties. These reveal Mercer’s weird upbringing—his mother raised him to hate his whoremongering father, to pleasure himself instead of seeking out those nasty dirty girls, even going so far as to buy him pornography starting at age 11, while pounding into his head that he has a Great Destiny—and a later revelation that this family adopted him and were not his real family at all . . . This revelation arises when Mercer gets a knock on the door, answers it and finds himself standing on the porch. This is not himself, of course, it is a take no shit version, one who knows the truth and indulges his homicidal impulses and his desires to screw girls. He’s an All-American Psycho, this dark reflection, and he has a plan for the two of them . . .
Well, as you might expect, the journals and Jane Hawk’s story come together by the novella’s end and achieves some resolution. It is not an easy win for Jane Hawk by any stretch of the imagination. She is tested and her allies are in danger. However, as this appeared under the aegis of one of the character’s case files audiences know she will make it out with all her limbs intact.
The Bone Farm is a more or less by-the-numbers thriller from Koontz’s pen. It shares several qualities with his Nameless thrillers and his real world killer thrillers. There is less of a sense of the supernatural or the fantastic/sf here. Instead, it is a much colder examination of the things human beings are capable of doing to one another. The villains are rotters and they deserve punishment. Jane is a punisher, but she is not a sadist or some kind of vigilante, she operates within the law.
These killers have a unique practice that border on the paranormal, as well. One that involves a weird voodoo ritual as well as setting certain clocks to run forward and other clocks to run backward. It is a means of removing themselves from time and the threat of death. Jane is pretty certain this is not real—serial killers are superstitious lot, prone to magical thinking—but she has yet to see for certain.
The novella is an unusual one in how much of the language delves into the psychosexual. The killer’s notebooks are understandably obsessed with the topic of fornication and repression. Mercer himself has been stunted from an early age thanks to a weirdo mother/stepmother, and when he has the chance to explore this part of his psyche he . . . well, takes to the subject. As his dark half draws him deeper into the bouts of sadism and horror with numerous girls over a period of years, he knits together sex and violence in unseemly ways. Jane understands this may be the key to undermining him, to steal away Mercer’s sense of power when she cannot take him down with guns blazing due to a hostage situation.
From a writing perspective, Koontz’s language is as clever and sound as ever. The sense of humor is all but absent here; the driving mood is intense suspense and action. There are echoes of elements found in other Koontz works, of course. Mercer and his dark reflection are reminiscent of the antagonists in The Face of Fear, one of Koontz’s works first published under his Brian Coffey penname. In fact, a menage a trois sequence in this book drew a similar scene from that previous book to mind. Not quite the same, but the echoes link these two suspense yarns.
I wonder if the author had been playing around with a television show type format for these novellas when this one saw release. The subtitle of A Jane Hawk Case File both grounds it in the Jane Hawk series (actually it is a prequel to the series Koontz is working on, since it is a casefile from much earlier in her career) and it suggests more case files for future episodes. The format falls in line with the sorts of expectations readers/crime show watchers would enjoy: a two hour trip into the weird world of slayers and the people who chase them (in fact, this lends itself quite nicely to the genesis of the Nameless series). Whether the author’s interest flagged, sales disappointed, or some kind of issue with the audiobook publisher themselves caused us to get only one of these, is unclear. However, one is what we got for now.
However, that one episode is a thrilling time spent in a world where serial killers operate outside the law and our dedicated professionals track them down. It is not quite the pulpy sorts of material that would take root in the later Nameless series, but it is a thrilling, if brief, jaunt nevertheless.
The Bone Farm: A Jane Hawk Case File is an audiobook only exclusive. Perhaps it will see print eventually. Who knows?
Next in our Dean Koontz mini-reading series, we will check out another of the original novellas he wrote for release through the Amazon Original Stories program: Ricochet Joe. The novella is another example of the author confronting a nice young everyman (ala Odd Thomas) with the sudden manifestation of a paranormal ability and then confronts him with some seriously nasty opponents and a sassy love interest. It is available in eBook and audiobook editions for super cheap (less than $2 gets you both).
“Dual Purposes: Dean Koontz’s The Bone Farm” is copyright © 2019 by Daniel R. Robichaud. Cover image taken from the Brilliance audiobook edition of The Bone Farm: A Jane Hawk Case File.
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