What are the best Dean Koontz books for beginners? Despite what his detractors say, I think Koontz has actually written some really solid thriller / horror novels over his long career.
To date, Koontz has churned out more than 105 novels – with sales above 450 million! That’s nothing to scoff at. Of course, being as prolific as he is, I think it’s safe to say that not all his works are home-runs. Like Stephen King, Koontz also has his fair share of literary duds (perhaps more so than King).
Thus, to help you separate the good from the bad, I’ve put together a list of what I feel are 14 of the best Dean Koontz books available. These are great novels to start with if you’re new to reading Koontz.
My list of the best Dean Koontz books for beginners
I’m kicking off this list with Phantoms, one of Koontz’s earlier and most widely enjoyed works.
Phantoms follows two sisters, Jenny and Lisa Paige, as they return to Jenny’s hometown – only to find it seemingly abandoned. Then, dead bodies start turning up and it soon becomes clear that all the town’s inhabitants are either deceased or missing. What could have caused this?
Determined to get to the bottom of the mystery, the sisters enlist the help of the military’s Biological Investigation Unit, who are just as baffled. However, this confusion descends to horror when one of the victims leaves them a name from beyond the grave…
Phantoms is a delightfully scary read that is, personally, one of the best Dean Koontz books I’ve ever read. He was heavily inspired by H.P. Lovecraft when writing this novel (which is also based on the now-debunked urban legend of a vanishing village). The sum result is a thrilling page-turner that still stands among Koontz’s finer literary moments.
Phantoms was adapted into a 1998 movie starring Peter O’Toole, Rose McGowan, Liev Schreiber, and Ben Affleck. And, it wasn’t half bad!
Are you a fan of H.P. Lovecraft? Check out our list of his most celebrated works.
It’s hard to have a list of Dean Koontz’s best books without including Watchers – his 1987 novel which helped to push him further toward global success.
We meet Travis Cornell, an ex-Delta Force operative who, amid a low point in his life, comes across a Golden Retriever in a canyon near his home. The two soon become friends.
However, as with most Koontz novels, nothing is as innocent as it seems. The dog turns out to be a genetically engineered, highly-intelligent being who has escaped from a top-secret government lab. But it isn’t alone. There’s also another escapee, known simply as the Outsider – a vicious abomination hell-bent on killing the dog, and anyone who gets in the way.
Travis and the dog (named Einstein) are thus forced to be on the run. However, the unlikely duo quickly realize that the Outsider isn’t the only dangerous foe hunting them…
Watchers is a book I often recommend to people looking for the best Dean Koontz books to start with. However, it isn’t without its flaws. For example, it was originally written in the late 1980s. Thus, the novel plays upon several dated tropes that translate to some flat characters (Koontz mostly overcomes this habit in his more recent novels).
Despite this, I find Watchers to be a fantastic thrillride that many Koontz fans still hold in high regard, especially on Reddit.
Ok, so I am a huge suspense buff. Thus, when I first heard about Koontz’s Intensity back in the day, I knew I had to pick it up. And, boy, I wasn’t disappointed!
Intensity starts off with Chyna Shepard, a troubled college student who finds herself unable to sleep on her first night at her best friend’s family home. However, her insomnia proves to be a blessing in disguise, since it isn’t long before a serial killer breaks in and murders everyone. Except her, of course.
Initially, Chyna’s only care is to get out alive. That is, until she learns that the killer – a self-proclaimed ‘homicidal adventurer’ named Vess – has imprisoned a young girl in his home. Chyna realizes that she’s the only person who can do something to save her. But will she?
I find Intensity to be extremely, well… intense! If you love cat-and-mouse thrillers, you’ll likely pick this one up and not put it down until the very last page. Chyna in particular is a fantastic heroine with a great character arc. Vess, on the other hand, is arguably one of Koontz’s most detestable villains. No surprise, really, since the author actually modelled him after real-life serial killer and scumbag Edmund Kemper.
Overall, I think Intensity is definitely one of the best Dean Koontz books out there. Give it a go – especially if you’re still on the fence about him!
Intensity‘s plot shares striking similarities with the 2003 French film, High Tension. The director himself has admitted to reading Koontz’s book before hand. I see the film as an (almost) straight-up adaptation – without the due credit.
If you’re reading this, you’re probably keen on Stephen King. Here’s our list of his best works most suited for beginners.
Lightning opens with a blizzard as we witness the birth of Laura Shane. Complications arise. However, lightning literally strikes, and she is miraculously saved from dying at the hands of an incompetent doctor.
Fast forward in time and Laura, all grown up, repeatedly finds herself snatched away from the jaws of death. With each near-miss, lightning always strikes – and she is saved by a mysterious blond man who appears out of nowhere. Laura soon comes to see him as her guardian angel.
But, is he really?
Lightning will surprise people who may have pigeonholed Koontz. Yes, the book has all his usual ingredients of suspense and mystery – with sci-fi and fantasy thrown in. However, above that, it is actually a beautiful and sensitive story about love. Lightning also features characters that I found myself caring about more and more the further I read. It’s an authorial talent many critics don’t give Koontz enough credit for.
Although written way back in 1988, Lightning is still incredibly popular among Koontz fans. The book has aged well, especially compared to some of his other early works. I definitely consider it one of the best Dean Koontz books for beginners, for sure.
A deadly force has taken hold of the coastal town of Moonlight Cove (yes, Moonlight, not Midnight, don’t get it mixed up!). Most of the town’s residents are either quickly becoming emotionless zombies, or turning into killing beasts. A small handful of survivors are left fearing for their lives as they try to figure out what’s going on – and stop it.
One of my favorite parts about Midnight is its multi-character perspective. You’re privy to the POV of four different characters: Janice (a nighttime jogger), Sam (an undercover FBI agent), Chrissie (an 11-year-old girl), and Tessa (Janice’s sister).
All these views thread into a suspenseful story that involves government conspiracies, sci-fi monsters, horror, and even a little bit of love. At its core, the book explores whether ‘humanity’ would still exist without emotions.
At times, Midnight falls a little too much into stereotypical good vs bad scenarios, making some characters a bit one-dimensional. That said, kudos to Koontz, who does an expert job at cranking up the pace to transform what would otherwise be a drab book into a truly nail-biting read.
Incidentally, this was Dean Koontz’s first hardcover to make the New York Times Best Sellers list!
6. From the Corner of His Eye
When Barty Lampion was only 3 years old, his eyes were removed to save him from a fast-spreading cancer. Unable to see but still incredibly smart, his mother, Agnes, teaches him an important life lesson: everything happens for a reason and our lives affect others, often in unknown ways. Then, a decade later, Barty miraculously regains his sight, and suddenly, the world is not as it seems.
Similar to Midnight‘s multi-POV style, From the Corner of His Eye takes three disparate stories and weaves them into one cohesive journey about courage, faith, and human bonds.
If you want something a little different from other best Dean Koontz books, From the Corner of His Eye will surely fit your needs. The novel is a sentimental favorite among many long-time Koontz fans, despite a lack of familiar suspense and horror. Overall, I regard this as a must-read Dean Koontz book for beginners – a hidden gem.
What if you were suddenly given a mysterious note with a threatening ultimatum? “Go to the police and I will kill an elderly woman active in charity work. Don’t go to the police and I will kill a blond schoolteacher.”
Most of us would brush it off as a sick joke. That’s exactly what unassuming bartender Bill Wiles did. After all, no one would really carry out such a heinous act, right?
However, less than 24 hours later, Bill discovers that a blond schoolteacher has been viciously murdered. Even worse, he finds a further note with yet another ultimatum, forcing him to take action – or pay the price!
Velocity is a fast-paced thriller reminiscent of the philosophical Trolley Problem – or, for the more pop-culture savvy, the Saw franchise. The book never slows down as you follow ordinary Bill in his rise up to do extraordinary things.
I love Velocity to bits – and highly recommend it as one of the best Dean Koontz books to start with. My advice? Don’t overthink the plot; just enjoy the novel for what it is!
8. The Jane Hawk series
The Jane Hawk books reflect Koontz’s sustained effort to produce a long-running series that, to me, actually gets better with each sequel.
The series starts with The Silent Corner. We are introduced to Jane Hawk, who is recently widowed. On the surface, her husband was a man who had everything to live for – yet still took his own life.
In her grief, Jane demands answers. However, her quest for the truth reveals unexpectedly darker secrets. It turns out her husband’s death was merely part of a long string of recent suicides by talented, accomplished, and seemingly happy people. Digging deeper, Jane soon finds herself the most-wanted fugitive in America, hunted by shadow enemies.
Jane Hawk is relentless, capable, and vulnerable all at once. She’s arguably one of the best and most complex characters Koontz has ever written. The series itself is also very compelling, thanks to strong sci-fi / mystery themes and intriguing ideas – including its exploration of money and power. In addition, the David and Goliath-style plot as Jane tries to topple an all-powerful empire is truly addictive!
Of course, the series isn’t flawless – and there are some pacing issues along the way. However, if anything, Jane Hawk shows us how Koontz has risen as a master of his writing craft over the years. The Silent Corner is a great example of this.
Other good Dean Koontz books to start with
9. The Bad Place
Frank Pollard does not want to go to sleep. No, he doesn’t fear having nightmares. Instead, he’s afraid of waking up in a ‘bad place’ – often with blood literally on his hands. Alarmed by his memory gaps, Frank hires a husband-and-wife security team to protect him. However, he quickly realizes he’s in far greater danger than he’s ready for.
10. The Odd Thomas series
At first glance, Odd Thomas seems like an ordinary 20-year-old short-order cook. However, there’s something ‘odd’ about him: he’s able to talk with the dead! Despite his rough childhood, Odd tries to use his abilities for good as he seeks justice for the ghosts who speak to him – even at his own peril.
11. Night Chills
Paul Annendale and his two children, Rya and Mark, have just arrived at Black Water for their annual camping trip. However, unknown to them, the small town harbors a deep secret. A strange evil has gripped the residents, maddening them to commit terrible crimes and murders.
Plot sounds like Midnight? I agree. But rest assured, Night Chills is a standalone Koontz book worth reading for its many intense thrills and spills.
12. Dragon Tears
Dragon Tears follows Harry Lyon, a cop who is forced to shoot a gunman dead at a restaurant. Not long after, he meets a homeless stranger who issues him a scary warning: “Ticktock, ticktock. You’ll be dead in sixteen hours!”. Spooked, Harry quickly discovers a secret that puts his very life and those around him at grave risk. The question is: can he save everyone before time runs out?
13. Life Expectancy
On the night that Jimmy Tock is born, his grandfather, Josef, passed away. But, before he dies, Josef predicts that Jimmy will suffer through five ‘dark days’ throughout his life.
At first, the family dismisses this as a dying man’s ramblings. However, as Josef’s prophecy starts to unfold, fear creeps in as they brace for what’s to come for Jimmy.
14. The Husband
Mitch Rafferty’s wife, Holly, is kidnapped. The kidnappers want two million in cash – or they’ll kill her. Problem is, Mitch is no rich man, working only as a modestly paid landscaper. With his back pushed against the wall, he must now find a way to save his wife by whatever means necessary, even if he has to risk his life… or hurt others.