All Commentary
Monday, January 1, 1996

Dark Rivers of the Heart

A Novel That Combines Emotional and Intellectual Arguments against Out-of-Control Government

Mr. Madden is an instructor in communications at Mt. Mercy College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Had this novel been released after the bombing of the Oklahoma federal building, it would no doubt be condemned by the Washington establishment as paranoid, extremist, hate-filled, and un-American. In its criticism of the abuses committed by those possessing the weapon of government power, Dark Rivers of the Heart pulls no punches. Though Koontz’s name is most closely associated with the horror genre, in his latest tale he portrays monsters of a different stripe: the dedicated servants of a secret governmental department which has taken upon itself the roles of judge, jury, and executioner.

The prime mover of this extra-legal organization is Roy Miro, “an equal-opportunity killer.” The portrayal of this “slightly pudgy” yet “appealing, soft-featured” public servant as a “compassionate” man dedicated to moving our culture one small step at a time towards perfection and true equality is chilling in its cumulative effect.

Despite his “tender” disposition, Roy is not above giving a “comeuppance” to those who would thwart his goals or slight his character. He relishes opportunities to even scores against anyone who dares to disagree with his noble vision of “order, stability, and justice.” Captain Harris Descoteaux of the LAPD discovers this to his horror when he is plunged into a continuing nightmare of manufactured charges, planted evidence, and property seizure which leaves him and his family destitute, homeless, and fearing for their lives.

Perhaps most frightening about Roy, however, is the fact that many people in this country would see nothing unusual about his views. For Roy, utopia will arrive when everyone is identical to everyone else, when morality is recognized as a relative guide in which the ends justify the means, when “social security and peace” are more valued than freedom; when it is acknowledged that anyone “obsessed with his privacy [is] an enemy of the people”; when the world envisioned in John Lennon’s song, “Imagine,” becomes a reality.

Exciting and suspenseful as the story is, the truly refreshing aspect of the book is the way in which Koontz takes on the government and defends freedom, reason, and individuality. Asset forfeiture, environmental zealots, power-hungry politicians, and the dangers and benefits of an overly computerized society all come under his scrutiny.

Dark Rivers of the Heart touches upon a variety of subjects of interest to friends of freedom: the dangers of relying upon a “compassionate” government to solve our problems, how satellite surveillance, interconnecting computer data bases, and other elements of burgeoning high technology can be used to subvert our rights as well as to provide us with the latest in entertainment. Whether he is exploring the nature of the drug war, the excesses of the BATF, EPA, and DEA, or the abuses exhibited in the cases of Randy Weaver and the Branch Davidians, Koontz’s ability to dramatize the negative effects of such issues is not only entertaining but educational. Too frequently, discussions of out-of-control government fail to combine emotional with intellectual arguments. With its broad appeal, Koontz’s fiction may alarm people enough to ignite discussion of these critical issues on a wide scale.