Well, I brought a book out of retirement to get some good ole goosebumps. And as usual Dean Koontz delivered. This book was originally published in 1976, but many of the ideas could still happen and it still can create some "Night Chills" for you. Some of the aspects such as lack of cell phones and outdated computers exist in the story, but there's still a lesson for modern times here.
This book has it all, an evil mad scientist, zombies (not the dead eating flesh type), big business corporate greed, a little government cover-up, and a couple of war heroes to save the day.
Dr. Ogden Salisbury, a scientist that was abused as a child, has developed a chemical that will enhance the mind's ability to be influenced by subliminal commands. We've all seen them, look at that magazine ad for alcohol you will find references to sex listed throughout the pictures if you know where to look. Now though, these can be used to completely bend a person's will. First it needs tested. To be tested several things are needed, corporate backing to mass generate the formula and the subliminal messages in print, tv, radio and movies, military support (but of course not that can be linked back to the government), and test subjects.
Dr. Salisbury has put the chemical into the water supply and food supplies for the small town of Black River, Maine. This is a company town built to support the logging mill in that city. Being self sufficient and reasonably secluded from the rest of the world, it is the perfect location. Then once the chemical has been introduced, the subliminal messages for the "Key/Lock" program begins. This program creates the perfect zombie/automaton out of any human able to read. To activate the zombie like trance and get the subject to do what he wishes the phrase "I am the Key" is used, to which the subject responds, "I am the lock." Then the subject will do anything asked, including murder a young boy.
Paul Annendale his 11 year old daughter Rya and his 8 year old son Mark take an annual trek to Black River to rough it in the woods. When they arrive in town their old family friend Sam Edison and his daughter (a love interest of Paul's) tell the Annendales about a strange "flu" going around. The whole town has been having night chills.
These chills turn out to be terrors after Mark observes Dr. Salisbury raping the police chief's wife as the chief and his 8 year old son watch. Dr. Salisbury orders the police chief to kill Mark. Rya watches this scene in horror and runs to her father and from there the action never stops.
Writing with extreme intesity, as with all his books, Dean Koontz never lets go in this novel that deserves some revisiting. Plenty of action, suspense and terror.
As a side note I find it quite interesting that all the subliminal programming involves sex as do all the subliminal advertising found in magazine ads. Are we that obsessed with sex as a culture to let it be our downfall? It's amazing what kind of questions Dean Koontz can evoke.