Critical Companions to Popular Contemporary Writer by Joan G. Kotker,
English Faculty, Bellevue College
Published by Greenwood Publishing
Copyright © 1996 by Joan G. Kotker.
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In looking at the difference between fiction that is considered to be "popular" and fiction that is considered to be "literature," a good, broad definition is that "popular" fiction reinforces our preconceived notions of how the world works; we leave this fiction reassured that things are as we have thought them to be. In contrast, "literature" forces us to question our preconceived notions and we leave it with the uncomfortable sense that things may not be as we thought, that we must go back and examine our assumptions of who and what we are, both as individuals and as a society. In Dark Rivers Koontz has created a story that works on both levels, entertaining us and at the same time leaving us feeling uneasy after we close the book.
The initial plot complication is the fact that Valerie does not come to work at her usual time. When Spencer gets to the bar she is already an hour late, and this is most unlike her—in the two months that she has been at the Red Door she has never been late before. Furthermore, she doesn't answer her phone. Complications build as Spencer goes to her house to see if she is there (he knows where it is because he had surreptitiously followed her home the night before), and he finds it emptied out: no furniture, no clothing, and clearly no one still living there. While he is in the house, it is attacked by what he thinks is a SWAT team. Not wanting to be found uninvited in someone else's house, he escapes, using the training he has as an ex-army ranger. Later, thinking about what has happened, he wonders who the men who attacked the house really were: some of the things they did do not jibe with their being a legitimate SWAT team. And, of course, he wonders what Valerie has done, that a group like this is seeking her.
Spencer returns home and tries to track Valerie through his computer. At one point he was a policeman on the Los Angeles computer task force, and so he knows a great deal about computers and how to use them, legally and illegally, to access information. He discovers that Valerie Keene is apparently a person without a past, someone who has existed for only a few months. Intrigued, he tries to track her through her landlord, who turns out to be a mysterious Asian named Louis Lee. Lee confirms Spencer's guess that the SWAT team was an illegal group, and puts him in touch with Valerie's coworker. The coworker thinks that Valerie once worked in Las Vegas, perhaps as a dealer in the casinos, and Spencer then pursues this lead, discovering her under another identity. He goes to Las Vegas, and while he is there, he realizes he is being followed. In attempting to escape his followers he drives out into the desert, where he is caught in a terrible storm and carried away by a flash flood racing through an arroyo. He is rescued by Valerie, who as it turns out knew that he had followed her home and, in turn, followed him home, placing a transmitter on his truck. She needs to know who he is and why he followed her, because a number of people are looking for her.
Through Valerie, Spencer learns that she—and now Spencer because of his connection to her—is being sought by a clandestine group and that the group reaches high into the government, under the leadership of Thomas Summerton, deputy assistant attorney general. The group makes use of computer technology, satellite hookups, and the like to control and destroy those they deem harmful. A conservative, paramilitary organization, they are after Valerie because she was married to Summerton's son, Danny. Both she and Danny were computer experts, and Danny created a program for his father that allowed him total access to business, government, and individual files. When Danny realized the purpose for which his father was using the program and tried to stop him, Thomas Summerton had his son killed. Valerie escaped, and now the agency is after her. It also wants to find Spencer to learn what his connection with Valerie is, and what Spencer knows about the agency's activities.
Spencer and Valerie together are now on the run from the agency, making use of Valerie's considerable computer skills to save themselves. They have also fallen in love, and Valerie is determined to help Spencer resolve the issue of his partial memories. They decide that they must return to his childhood home in Colorado in order to do this.
While all of this is going on, further complications occur when the leader of the team following Valerie and Spencer, Roy Miro, meets and falls in love with an ex-Las Vegas show girl who now is responsible for the computer taping of all the communications regarding casino activities that routinely take place in Las Vegas. She uses the knowledge she gains in this way at first for economic advantage and later for political advantage. She and Roy share a vision of a world of perfection, and they spend much time discussing ways to eliminate imperfection by killing off all the imperfect human beings in society.
In his search for Valerie and Spencer, Miro has learned that Spencer is the child of Steven Ackblom, a famous artist who was also a serial killer (he displayed his victims in underground tableaux). Ackblom killed his wife and forty other women before being discovered by his then fourteen-year-old son when Ackblom was in the midst of a torture killing. The son shot him, and it is this event that stays with Spencer as a partial memory: What part of it has he forgotten? Why did he forget it? Can he recover it?
Miro decides that Spencer is tormented by his past and will inevitably return to the family home in Colorado to make sense of it. Miro goes to the prison for the criminally insane where Steven Ackblom is serving a life sentence, and by using false papers, removes him from the facility. Miro believes that his best chance of getting information from Spencer is to confront him with his father, Steven.
In the climax, Valerie and Spencer return to Spencer's childhood home, not realizing that the clandestine team is there waiting for them. They enter the underground chamber where Steven Ackblom did his killing, and Spencer recovers his memories of the night he shot his father. He is then confronted by his father and Roy, and in questioning Steven, Spencer learns that he had no part in the death of that evening's victim, as his father tried to assert he did. He is thus freed of the fear and guilt of the past and so can love Valerie and carry on with his life. At this point Roy shoots Valerie, wounding her but not killing her; Steven Ackblom shoots Roy, paralyzing him but not killing him; and Spencer shoots Steven, killing him. Spencer says that he has done this to avenge his mother, and Valerie tells him that if he had not killed Steven, she would have. Valerie and Spencer then escape the trap set by the agency, again through the use of Valerie's computer skills.
Finally, in the denouement we learn that Roy has survived, and that he and Eve have put into place a plan whereby she is to, within the next few years, take over as president of the United States, something made possible by Roy's connections with the agency and Eve's use of the knowledge she has gained from monitoring computer tapes. Valerie and Spencer have escaped from the agency and joined a resistance group made up of people with superb computer skills. The group is dedicated to disrupting the programs of Miro's group and seeing to it that ultimately they have no power because their information is interrupted and, therefore, unreliable. Thus, one group is attempting to take over by use of computer technology and another is attempting to foil them by use of computer technology. Valerie and Spencer are expecting a baby, and other characters see this as a sign of hope for the future, a sign that the resistance will triumph.
Spencer Grant is a round, well-developed character of whom we know a great deal. The traumatic events of his childhood are described in detail, and their effect on his later life is made clear: he is haunted by incomplete memories and by his need to come to terms with a strong feeling of guilt that he does not understand. His mother died when he was eight and his father is in a prison for the criminally insane. Spencer has been an army ranger, a Los Angeles policeman, and a member of its computer crime task force. Although he is only in his thirties he has retired from the police and now amuses himself by experimenting with his computers and the various types of access he can achieve through them. He is in the process of erasing himself from official records because he feels that he may at some point want to disappear, although this feeling is nebulous and not well defined—something he just may want to do at some point for reasons that he is uncertain of. Quiet and a loner, he is proud of his self-control. His only real attachment, at the opening of the novel, is with an abused dog named Rocky, whom he has rescued from the pound. (Like all of Dean Koontz's dogs, Rocky is a dog that even dog haters would love to own.) Like Alfie of Mr. Murder, Spencer says that he is searching for a life, by which he means that he needs to feel like a complete human being. In the case of Spencer, this would mean that he had full access to his memories and had come to terms with the undefined guilt he feels.
When Spencer meets Valerie Keene, it is a case of love at first sight, and he persists in tracking her down because he feels that she can help him find the life he seeks. He has already adopted one new identity in his life, since the name he has now is not his original one. His father's crimes were so notorious and generated so much publicity that he changed his name, choosing for new names two from the world of the classic movies, "Spencer" after Spencer Tracy and "Grant" after Cary Grant. Thus, like Alfie, Spencer loves movies and bases something of who he is on the films he has seen.
Finally, Spencer is an interesting character in that he is not intimidated by the fact that Valerie's computer skills are superior to his own. Instead, he is a contemporary hero who is able to work as an equal with the women in his life. Spencer is a dynamic character, since at the beginning of the novel he is striving to come to terms with his past and with who he is. By the end of the novel he has achieved this: he now knows that his memory block concerns the death of one of his father's victims, and that his feeling of guilt is based on the fact that his father has convinced him that he, Spencer, is in part responsible for the death. When he confronts his father in the climax, he learns that this is not true; it is simply another example of the father's psychopathology, and his father was the only murderer.
The second major protagonist is Valerie Keene, another rounded character, although her background is given in less detail than Spencer's. Also in her thirties, Valerie is a computer software designer who specialized in creating video games. She was married to Danny Summerton, the only child of Deputy Assistant Attorney General Thomas Summerton. Danny was also a designer of computer software, and created a program called Mama, one that had the capability of accessing virtually any information. We know very little of Danny except that when he realized his father was using the program for political control, he attempted to stop him and as a result was killed by his father's agents. Valerie was also supposed to be killed—she has far too much information about Mama to be allowed to live—but she escaped the initial attack and has been on the run from Summerton's group for over a year.
Valerie is brave, resourceful, and intelligent. Her knowledge of computers and her ability to use them to protect herself are nothing short of awesome. Reversing the usual male-female roles in thrillers, it is she who is the most knowledgeable character and who is responsible for her own and Spencer's survival. She is a dynamic character only to the extent that, through her relationship with Spencer, she realizes that although Danny is dead, she will be able to love other people in her life. Doing so will be no denial of what she felt for Danny; indeed, it may well be a celebration of those feelings. Other than this change, she remains the same throughout the novel.
Two minor protagonists are Valerie's coworker Rosie, who provides Spencer with a clue that helps him to find her, and Louis Lee, the man who is apparently head of the resistance movement. Rosie is basically a plot device, someone who exists to help the story along rather than for any intrinsic reason of her own. But Lee plays a more significant role since he makes possible the alternative use of technology explored in the novel—that of technology used for society's benefit. He is a relatively flat character; all we know of him is that he has escaped from many of the political hell-holes of contemporary history, including the fall of Saigon, and that those around him look upon him as a hero. His experience has led him to distrust all governments, and he tells Spencer that his loyalties lie with individuals rather than with organizations. It is within his resistance group that Spencer and Valerie find sanctuary. Lee is a static character, remaining the same throughout the work.
One other protagonist is the police captain Harris Descoteaux, who was Spencer's superior in the LAPD. Very little information is given about him other than that he is a good policeman and a good person, but he has the misfortune of creating a negative impression on Roy Miro, who retaliates by destroying his career through planted evidence. There is a terrifying scene in which members of the agency assault his home in a supposed drug raid. Everything he owns is seized under federal property—forfeiture statutes and he is put in prison. Descoteaux is a minor character and therefore little background information is given on him. However, he is a dynamic character in that he comes to see the world of authority and power very differently, as a result of his experiences, from how he did at the beginning of the novel. Where he was once very doubting of anyone's claiming to be innocent and saying he or she was framed, he now knows that framing can and does happen.
Dark Rivers has as its major antagonist Roy Miro, a round but static, nonchanging character. Like Steven Ackblom, Roy is also a psychopathic killer. He goes through life seeking out anyone who seems to him to live a less than perfect life, and when he kills such people he is convinced that he is being a good Samaritan, releasing them from the pain of living. His idea of a perfect world is one in which everyone is identical to everyone else, there is only one sex, and "human beings reproduced by discreet parthenogenesis in the privacy of their bathrooms—though not often" (94). There would be only one skin color, a pale blue, and no one would be too dumb or too smart. He believes that it is imperative that the state be powerful, that only in that way can progress be achieved. He thinks the power of the state is based on the degree of people's dependency on it—the more dependent they are, the stronger the state—thus, individualists are a threat to society. Miro is one of the few people in the agency who understands that its real goal is absolute power. Most of the other members think that they are working for an orthodox government agency engaged in orthodox activities. We know very little about Miro other than his goal of a perfect world, but he is so bizarre that he feels fully developed. He is a static character who ends the novel as he began it, working for the agency and committed to creating the new society.
There are two minor antagonists, Eve Marie Jammer and Thomas Summerton. The gorgeous, ex-showgirl Jammer loves power as much as does Miro, and when the two meet, it is love at first sight. Jammer's background is sketched in enough to make her more than a stock character—she is the illegitimate daughter of Summerton—but the reader has little sense of why she has made the specific choices she has, of what other alternatives were open to her and why she rejected them. She is a static character whose only dynamic characteristic is her falling in love with Miro. But since the two are so similar in their worldview, she gains no insights into herself or into the way the world works from this association, only the validation that comes with agreement.
Thomas Summerton is the novel's symbol of ultimate evil, but he never appears in the novel in his own person: we see him only through the eyes of other people, from the perspectives of Valerie, Roy, and Eve. For these reasons he is a stock character, the ultimate villain whose villainy is beyond explanation and who never changes in his single-minded pursuit of his goals. There are also a number of minor antagonists who are the other operatives and employees of the agency, but these again are stock characters, here to people the stage on which the action occurs rather than to initiate the action.
One specific issue raised by Dark Rivers of the Heart is the introduction of the character Harris Descoteaux. He is a captain in the Los Angeles Police Department and was Spencer's superior before he joined the computer task force. But the only thing he does in the novel that relates to Spencer is to give Roy Miro background information on the kind of cop Spencer was. This information could just as easily be gained from records (in fact, most of it already has been), and Miro learns nothing that will help him. The reader understands that Descoteaux thinks Spencer was a good person, but this has already been established in other ways, one of which is the bonding of the dog Rocky with Spencer; if an abused dog trusts a character, then that character must be an okay person. Sometimes the best way of getting at why an author has included a particular scene or character is to imagine the book without them and see what is changed. One significant element in the Miro-Descoteaux meeting is that Descoteaux, in backing up his statement that Spencer could not be involved in anything morally wrong, says that he knows that it would not be possible because Spencer is a man who agonizes over right and wrong. He tells Miro, "Whatever the crime. . .the kind of man you want to be looking for is one who's absolutely certain of his righteousness." He adds, "No one's more dangerous than a man who's convinced of his own moral superiority" (148).
This statement could be a description of Roy Miro, who is absolutely certain of himself and the rightness of everything he does, and he reacts to Descoteaux's comment by deciding to have him killed. Then Miro decides that, no, there are better ways to get back at him. This certainly seems like an extreme reaction to a general statement that is, after all, only Descoteaux's opinion and wasn't even specifically directed at Miro. His reaction to it shows a number of things about him. First, Miro is clearly paranoid, interpreting every statement made in terms of himself. Second, he is clearly powerful—he does not for a moment doubt that he can have Descoteaux killed or destroyed simply for having an opinion that Miro disagrees with. And, of course, Miro turns out to be correct about whether or not he can do this: Descoteaux is destroyed, professionally and personally, even though he is a captain in the police department with an exemplary record. If this can happen to Descoteaux, then it could happen to any one of us. If Miro can take such extreme measures on the basis of a whim, then he and the agency he represents are exceedingly powerful and out of control. Thus, the inclusion of Harris Descoteaux in the story may add little to the plot development, but it is significant in terms of adding evidence to the claim that we have much to fear from rogue agencies such as Miro's group.
So far as physical locations are concerned, Spencer first meets Valerie in Los Angeles, a city known for its lack of intimacy and its atmosphere of separateness and loneliness. This is a fine place for a man like Spencer, who up to now has not even fully connected with himself, let alone anyone else, and it is also a convincing place for someone like Valerie to go to ground. The rural Colorado country that Spencer lived in as a boy also works to add credibility to events in the novel, since it is isolated enough that a psychopathic killer might indeed be able to commit crimes there for years without being caught. When the agency operatives move in during the climax, the area's isolation makes it believable that such an event could take place, out of sight of the public, where there would be no one to raise alarms.
Another good use of place is the city of Las Vegas, where Valerie has been working as a dealer. This is a city of thousands of transients who are far more interested in the gambling than they are in one another. A stranger coming into town is the norm rather than an event to be remarked on. It is also a city of enormous clandestine power in the shape of the mob, who are assumed by most people to control the gambling and to use the city for laundering money. Such power makes the power of Summerton and his agency more credible by association: if there can be a secret, powerful group like the mob, why can't there be another powerful group? And finally, the use of Miami in the denouement as the location for the resistance serves two functions: since Miami is known as an international city with international connections, particularly connections with Latin America and its various real-life resistance groups, we are prepared to accept it as the site for this fictional resistance group. At the same time, Miami's beautiful beaches, its sun, and its sand and tropical climate make it seem like paradise, as though perhaps here society really could return to Eden, to a time of innocence when there were no groups such as Summerton's.
The novel's most inspired use of artificial setting is that of technical equipment and weapons, especially the computers and the access they give to cyberspace. Spencer uses his computer expertise to find Valerie. The agency uses its expertise to find Spencer. And both the agency and Valerie make ingenious use of surveillance equipment to track and, in Valerie's case, hide, from one another. One of the delights of the novel is that characters who are being tracked by the use of technology are, in turn, evading their trackers by the use of the same technology. There are fascinating descriptions of computer-generated portraits of Spencer developed from details seen through the rain, of the retrieval of fingerprints by high-tech means and their identification through computers, and of devices such as infinity transmitters, which are undetectable telephone wiretaps that work even when no one is talking on the phone. In the climax, it is Valerie's capture of the satellite Godzilla—something that Spencer calls a "death-ray satellite" and that Valerie explains is really "enhanced-laser technology" (466)—that enables them to defeat Miro and his men. Valerie constructs a grid that is essentially a gameboard and shoots down the operatives with molten laser paths when they attempt to come near her and Spencer. Anyone who's played even the simplest computer game cannot help but become involved in the Godzilla game, and the fact that computers now do the extraordinary things that they do in real life makes it plausible that there are satellites such as Godzilla, that they can be captured by someone knowledgeable enough and desperate enough to work her way into the system, and that they could be used as Valerie has used Godzilla.
In addition to omniscient voice, Koontz also uses first person to describe Spencer Grant's partial memories. In first-person point of view, a character relates the events of a story from the I point of view. This is a classic point of view to choose for stories in the hard-boiled detective genre: "I was in my office, deciding whether to open another bill or give it up for the day" might be a standard hard-boiled opening. When first person is used, everything is filtered through the perceptions of the I narrator, and only that perception is known to the reader. Essentially, the reader must interpret the story through the eyes, ears, and personality of the narrator, and must decide how much to trust the narrator. First person is a common choice when the author wants the reader to identify with the narrator and it is effective in describing Grant's memories. The terror he feels in them is shared with the reader and the reader experiences the development of the memories as they grow and become more complete, almost as though the reader were remembering along with Spencer. We are both frightened and intrigued by what we, through Spencer, might remember next.
When he is caught in the agency assault on Valerie's house, Spencer's first reaction is that he is in the middle of a gang war, a daily occurrence in contemporary Los Angeles. When Roy Miro thinks about the city, he reflects on the fact that most of the motorists seem to be drunk or on drugs, and he watches a homeless man pushing a shopping cart full of belongings, "his face expressionless, as if he were a zombie shuffling along the aisles of a Kmart in Hell" (31). Miro believes that the apocalypse is coming and that it is inevitable, that human beings are "drawn to turmoil and self-destruction as inevitably as the earth was drawn to complete its annual revolution of the sun" (33).
It is not only the city of Los Angeles that is seen in this bleak light. Spencer thinks that most government agencies devote their energies to justifying their own existence, rather than doing what they were intended to do. Miro would agree with him, and would add that politicians have so meddled with the Drug Enforcement Agency that it is incapable of fulfilling its mission. He also sees the military services as "confused as to their purpose, underfunded, and moribund" (265). When Miro, still trying to find Spencer, breaks into an average middle-class home, he finds the inhabitants out of work, looking for jobs, and living on welfare, victims of a recession they had no part in creating. Roy thinks about how he will have to be more careful the next time he breaks into a home, that even if he has convincing credentials, a government raid on a private home has become a risky business: "The residents might be anything from child-molesting worshipers of Satan to cohabiting serial killers with cannibalistic tendencies." He adds, "On the cusp of the millennium, some damned strange people were loose out there in fun-house America" (111).
The most damning social comment in Dark Rivers of the Heart is its description of the forfeiture laws, which allow the government to seize the goods of private citizens who have not been proven guilty of anything, and who do not even have to be formally charged. The claim is made that such laws, designed to apply only to major drug dealers and members of organized crime, are now being far more generally applied and are becoming an important source of funds for the agencies involved. Harris Descoteaux's brother Darius, a lawyer, tells him that there are now two hundred federal offenses for which forfeiture laws can be applied, and that in one year, they were applied 50,000 times. Readers who take the time to read Koontz's afterword will be even more alarmed at the picture the novel draws of these laws. Koontz tells the reader that his description of these laws and how they work is essentially factual. This image of an America in decay is an ironic one, since it describes an America that has been brought about by our best intentions. Valerie says, "By insisting on a perfect world, we've opened the door to fascism" (304), by which she means that in our attempt, as a society, to fix everything for everyone, we have let loose unlimited government power.
When one looks at the alternative proposed by the novel to the present state of society, the picture remains bleak. Koontz proposes two basic scenarios: fascism and revolution. That is, either things will remain as they are, with political agencies gaining more and more power over the individual citizen, or individual citizens will band together to take control of cyberspace, the new source of power in today's world. Should this happen, Koontz provides the reader with no guarantee that this group, in its turn, will handle power well. The novel's final message—its underlying theme—is that the power of technology, a power based as much on knowledge as on force, can be used for great evil and it can be used for great good. If we would have a free society, we had better see to it that decisions on how this power will be used are made by individuals accountable to other individuals, and not by faceless bureaucrats acting through clandestine agencies. It is for this reason that the novel ends without coming to full closure, without reassuring the reader that everything will be all right—that evil will be defeated and we will all be safe in our beds. Maybe evil will be defeated and maybe it won't: the final outcome depends on how we choose to use and control the immense power of modern technology. Like the novel, we have not yet come to closure on this issue.
A reverse example of the same sort occurs when a woman, Nella Shire, is shown in a role typically reserved for men—that of the person who objectifies the opposite sex by seeing them in terms of their physical attributes rather than as complete people. She is forty-five years old and an expert on fingerprints, an area that was until recently a masculine preserve. She has pictures of male body builders in bikini briefs pinned up in her work area, in a scene that parodies what used to be the standard male one of using pictures of scantily clad calendar girls to decorate male workplaces. Nella's male manager insists that she take the pictures down, that leaving them up is an act of sexual harassment. While Koontz is clearly having fun with this example of gender reversal, he uses it to make the point that all people, women as well as men, want to be seen as themselves rather than as collections of specific physical attributes.
A good example of gender stereotyping, of assuming that a person is a particular type of person because of gender and appearance, happens with respect to Eve Marie Jammer. She works in the agency's underground recording center in Las Vegas, overseeing the monitoring of thousands of telephones through taps that are recorded onto laser disks. This is a very sensitive position since what is being done is clearly illegal. Eve is trusted here partly because her father is head of the agency, but also because she is so beautiful that her employers assume she is "barely bright enough to change the laser discs from time to time. . .and call in an in-house technician to repair malfunctioning machines" (160). In actuality, Eve is an extremely intelligent woman who has used her position to amass $5 million in two years. She has traded on the stereotype of the beautiful, dumb woman to lull her employees and, in doing so, has benefited from her wit and abilities. It is another reversal of gender stereotypes that Eve has made most of her money through taking advantage of the details she has overheard regarding corporate—stock manipulations and guaranteed point spreads on rigged national sporting events—two areas that would traditionally be considered incomprehensible to women but that, as Koontz shows through Eve, are hardly gender-based.
The major woman character in Dark Rivers of the Heart is the protagonist Valerie Keene. In yet another reversal of gender stereotypes, she rescues the hero when he is trapped by a flash flood rather than the hero's rescuing her. She also has knowledge equivalent to and at times superior to that of the hero. Although he was trained in surveillance techniques as an army ranger, she discovers at once that he is following her and, in turn, she follows him, placing a transmitter on his truck. Unlike Valerie, who spots Spencer, Spencer does not spot Valerie, suggesting that she is better than he is at these techniques. Throughout the novel, it is Valerie who is the voice of wisdom, who understands what is going on and why, and who explains it to Spencer. This is again a case of role reversal; traditionally, it is the male hero who is the source of such knowledge. Even in the small details, Koontz emphasizes role reversal and the inaccuracy of gender expectations. Thus, Valerie is a superb driver, as she demonstrates in a high-speed chase—again a skill considered to be a male attribute. In her professional life Valerie also worked in a field usually thought of as a male field, that of computer software design, where her speciality was developing computer games. It is interesting that it is her being in this nontraditional field that first brought her to the attention of Danny, the man who became her husband, suggesting that women can be in fields thought of as men's fields and still be attractive as women. And, of course, it is Valerie's mastery of computers that allows her to capture a satellite, construct what is basically a computer game around it, and so defeat the agency.
One of the ways feminists describe the world and its present power structure is in terms of the concept of the patriarchy, by which is meant the broad collection of traditional white-male power groups in business, the military, and politics. These groups have retained power for themselves by keeping women and other minorities out of positions that would give them access to power. The term patriarchy refers to this group's tendency to see itself as benevolent and fatherly, acting for the good of all of its children, namely the women and nonwhites in society. When Valerie takes on the agency, she is taking on the patriarchy. It is interesting that of the agency operatives who work in the field, none are women and none are minorities. She is also taking on a real father, since Thomas Summerton is her late husband Danny's father. And he is as devastating to his real child as the patriarchy is to its symbolic children: he has Danny killed when Danny aspires to power that would challenge his father. There is also some indication of role reversal in the fact that Summerton's daughter Eve succeeds where her half-brother Danny failed, in that she is able to wrest at least some power from the father. However, she is using power in the same ways that he is, and we cannot know if he would have her killed too if she were the direct challenge to him that Danny was. Finally, among the characters who join the resistance in the novel are its only minorities, a designation that includes women as well as racial and ethnic groups. Valerie's friend Rosie is half Vietnamese and half African American, Louis Lee is Chinese and Harris Descoteaux is African American. If the old America is based on white male power, the potential new America in the form of the resistance will be based on multiethnic, female, and male power.
In all of these ways, then, Dean Koontz makes use of traditional gender roles and stereotypes, as well as of feminist concepts such as that of the patriarchy, to suggest that if there is to be a world of freedom from hidden dictatorships for everyone, it will also be a world of equality, of shared power and of shared access for each gender and all races.