On his thirty-sixth birthday, May 18, Travis Cornell rose at five o’clock in the morning. He dressed in sturdy hiking boots, jeans, and a long-sleeved, blue-plaid cotton shirt. He drove his pickup south from his home in Santa Barbara all the way to rural Santiago Canyon on the eastern edge of Orange County, south of Los Angeles. He took only a package of Oreo cookies, a large canteen full of orange-flavored Kool-Aid, and a fully loaded Smith & Wesson .38 Chief’s Special.
I used to sit in front of my mom’s bookcase, inspecting the books she collected. When my mom gave me permission to read an adult book, I was ready. Watchers was the book I chose.
The 1987 hardback edition. The cover design was distinctly different from most of the books I’d been allowed to read up to that point—black background, bold letters, and that red footprint.
The description on the back cover enticed: “From a top secret government laboratory come two genetically altered life forms. One is a magnificent dog of astonishing intelligence. The other, a hybrid monster of a brutally violent nature. And both are on the loose…
To a 9-year-old girl who wished for Dr. Doolittle-like powers, a highly intelligent dog as a main character was an irresistible draw. And the golden retriever charmed me all those years ago. My favorite authors up to that point included Jim Kjelgaard, Albert Payson Terhune, and Walter Farley. If the book featured an animal, it was probably on my to-read list. I loved Watchers and continued to praise it long after I’d forgotten exactly what made me love it so much. In fact, it remained one of my favorite Dean Koontz novels for many years (my favorite being Oddkins).
I was intrigued with revisiting this book—my doorway out of the children’s section. But the experience of reading Watchers was quite different after more than 20 years. It was difficult for me to care about or even be interested in any of the characters other than Einstein (the dog) and the Outsider (the monster). It was particularly unmoving. Reading a horrific scene in the book, I thought I should be much more repulsed and saddened about what happened. A lack of depth kept me from connecting to the story or the characters and I just couldn’t bring myself to invest them. I neither liked nor hated Travis, Nora (the humans of the story), or any of the other major players. Through their ordeals, I could only wonder how many more pages I had to get through before the end. Eh, okay, was about the only emotion the book elicited from me.
Amazing what years can do to change your opinion of something. At first, I felt somewhat like I’d been disappointed by a childhood hero. But then I came to appreciate what rereading Watchers showed me—how far I’ve come as a reader and as a person. After reading Watchers as a little girl, I quickly moved on to more Dean Koontz books, as well as all the other offerings on my mom’s bookcase—Erle Stanley Gardner, Tony Hillerman, Rex Stout, Tom Clancy, Chaucer, Robert Louis Stevenson—experiencing all kinds of books. I read almost every genre and enjoyed something from each. Eventually I developed a fondness for classic literature and fantasy novels.
So while Watchers did not stand the test of time for me, I cannot dislike the book. It holds its special place for me, encouraging me into a bigger world of reading. Still, don’t expect to see this title on a recommended reading list from me anytime soon.
Aimee Lewis is an editor, working mostly with nonfiction. Her most recent accomplishment was beating her son at a game of Candyland. Finally.