'In Odd We Trust' by Queenie Chan and Dean Koontz and 'The Graveyard Book' by Neil Gaiman

Seasonal scare tactics from masters of fright

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I've recently become acquainted with two young men, one named Odd, the other named Bod. They're the perfect companions to facilitate a creepy Halloween experience.

Both are living, both see dead people. One lives in a desert town, the other in a graveyard. Both are characters in books by award-winning authors who are adept at creating nightmarish worlds that are as frightening as they are irresistible.

   
"IN ODD WE TRUST"

By Queenie Chan and Dean Koontz
Illustrated by Queenie Chan
Del Rey ($10.95)

   

Odd (the "T" was dropped on his birth certificate) Thomas is the unassuming protagonist in Dean Koontz's series of best-sellers. He recently came alive, so to speak, in the first graphic novel in the series, co-written and illustrated by manga artist Queenie Chan.

Koontz, in an afterword, writes that he feels closer to knowing the inner Odd, the 20-year-old short-order cook who helps the dead find peace, than any other character he's created. However, despite the drawings by "the wonderful Queenie Chan," he still can't find Odd's look in his mind's eye.

Koontz's Odd books are neatly detailed, describing a mansion or a house on the wrong side of the tracks with equally evocative prose and portraying raw emotions or glib, pop-culture references with aplomb.

This story, "In Odd We Trust," includes the love of his life, Stormy, ghostly children seeking Odd's help and live children in grave danger, so it has all the elements of an Odd adventure. But the graphic novel format doesn't always suit Odd, particularly when expressions seem frozen when you'd expect shock or grief.

Amid all the horror in Odd's hometown of Pico Mundo, there's always comfort in the hero's innate goodness and the generosity of those few close friends entrusted with his secret. This story is no exception.

And then there's Bod.

   
"THE GRAVEYARD BOOK"

By Neil Gaiman
HarperCollins ($17.99)

   

Neil Gaiman dwells in nightmarish, fantastical worlds in books such as "Coraline," recently re-released as a graphic novel and due for a movie and video-game treatment. In "The Graveyard Book" he introduces Nobody Owens -- Bod for short -- whose parents are brutally killed when he's a toddler and who comes to be raised by the ghostly residents and a creature of the night in a nearby graveyard.

Bod, like Odd, is a gentle soul but curious, like most little boys, and gets into mischief because of it. He has the special protection of the "Freedom of the Graveyard," but inside and outside its gates, he still gets into all sorts of mischief, sometimes in the name of being helpful, often because his curiosity gets the best of him.

As he grows into a young man, his family's murderer continues to look for him, eager to get the boy who got away, while Bod longs for information and, at times, vengeance. He strikes up a friendship with a living girl and little by little learns of life among the living, along with the secrets of the dead and the mystical.

As in most fairy tales -- and this is a fairy tale in novel form, with elements of Snow White to be found in Bod's life -- there's deadly danger from evil-doers, but there's humor amid the horror.

Drawings by illustrator Dave McKean increase the sense of dread or whimsy when appropriate.

There's also goodness that triumphs over evil, with an ending that's unexpected but hopeful. Even on Halloween, that's a treat.


Sharon Eberson can be reached at seberson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1960.


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