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Its unusual for me to start a review with reasons to read the book, but I feel that Dean Koontz has had a lot of bad press over the past few years and in some ways I hope that readers will look at this in a new light. Since its one of his earlier books then it may easily have been passed over by his newer ones and therefore new readers could miss out on some of this authors finer points.
Fans of Koontz should know a bit about him, the classic tale of a young boy born to impoverished and abusive parents who laughed at his efforts to teach himself to read and write, despising education because they didn't see the point of it. He did manage some schooling despite having to be at the beck and call of his parents and eventually made enough money by working at several menial jobs to buy pencils and paper for writing.
However much I know about his early days I never take it for granted. In fact his later books make little mention of his background now he's so successful. But just imagine a childhood starved of books and the things even some of us who were born in the fifties went without, comics and books being unnecessary when money was tight. If it hadn't been for the Carnegie Libraries I wouldn't have gone to a girl's grammar school and certainly wouldn't be writing reviews. However, this isn't about me, but a gentle reminder that some people deserve a little leniency when they start out in their writing career.
Cold Fire was first published in 1991 when Koontz was still trying out writing styles and tried to marry literate thrillers with a deep sense of the mysterious that he's never grown out (thank goodness for that). Like my other hero, Stephen King, he started off writing about the places he knew and all of his early books had a sense of telling a story with the hope that the reader would stay along for the ride. This makes many of his early books fast paced and sometimes similar in that his characters are usually running from or to something that's frightening or compelling. It's a period of writing that I sometimes wish he'd return to with his later books, as they are often glib nowadays.
Schoolteacher Jim Ironheart is a man on a mission to save the life of a child, but this is far from usual since he's flying from California to Oregon to stop a child being run over. He's got a first-hand witness this time though, a journalist who has lost her faith and interest in what she does. On the trail of what seems to be a potential story, she traces Jim back home to California by following a pattern of similar 'wondrous' miracles when Jim was in the right place at the right time.
When she does find him she expects him to admit he's psychic but he says that God is working through him. Holly Thorne wants mystery and a great story, but Jim wants only to save lives, compelled by an urge he cannot resist to go where he needs to be at any time. Holly's investigations are putting them both at risk though, as something wants to stop Jim, something dark and terrifying that makes Jim's heart pound near to bursting, something he only knows as the enemy.
Crossing America Jim stays ahead of Holly for a while, but soon she catches up and it's then that his past starts to slowly unravel, a harrowing story that even a journalist would shy away from. Can they both find any peace from the enemy, or must Jim run forever? To find out more you need to read the book.
***Telling the Story***
As I mentioned, Koontz's writing has changed a lot over the years. The 1990's were perhaps the most prolific and yet deeply disturbing periods in his writing career. He has spoken at some length in interviews about enjoying telling stories as a child and he was fascinated by many of the masters of the horror story, emulating Poe and looking up to the giants of fiction. He tells a good story himself and during this story in particular he shows the art of keeping several themes going at the same time. At one point I counted four separate threads to the narrative.
In this book he uses the technique of the 'chase', which he uses, to great effect in many of his books. In this one his character crosses countries by plane and in one instance by motorbike. A highlight of the story is a fast paced ride through the desert and Koontz writes with a blinding intensity that makes the reader feel faint with the heat and the parched miles covered day after grueling day. Yet this is just one small part and as the characters develop, so do the descriptions of places and people, showing how well this writer knows his geography.
This is a very long book at 506 pages in paperback, so I feel a short spoiler can't hurt. The character of Jim Ironheart is one of Koontz's stronger ones, yet has been overlooked a lot. This could be as some people might read the blurb, see the words 'miracles' and think this is a lightweight story. Jim has a background that Holly investigates in an attempt to discover what is frightening him so much. She feels it lies in his background and Jim initially shies away. What they discover together is a web of deceit that Jim is partly responsible for, but also explains why he can be quite frightening himself at times and yet soft and kind at others. Jim's enemy ultimately is created by a fantasy of huge imagination, and shows that even then Koontz had started to uncover some of his own fears and hang-ups. I found this amazing in it's complexity and how the mind can remember things in a mixed-up way.
While it may seem I've said quite a bit, I think the depth of characters here can be one of his stronger attempts. He is still in that stage where his characters are serious, well spoken but not flippant, mysterious and intelligent with a sense of rightness about them. You can't help but feel sorry for Jim who cannot live the life he wants, but has to take off at a moment's notice to go and save a stranger. He has no forewarning, just knows he is needed somewhere. Yet the reader can't help but think why he can only save one or two people and allow others to die? I think Koontz is questioning life here, much more than he does with his later books, which are about psychic characters but are much lighter.
Holly is a super character, a strong woman who is a bit jaded but still can be very feminine at times. Some of Koontz's female characters can be a bit timid and do what they are told. As a woman I don't like this and so prefer some of these early books more. Without her pushing Jim he wouldn't have made it through his worst nightmare, but that's getting a bit near to a spoiler again.
One thing missing in this book is a Koontz's dog, though I can see how he couldn't get a dog on a plane. With this you notice the lessening of flippancy that annoys me at times. I do like some of his later books, but find them a bit tired after a while. With Cold Fire he has taken on a few different themes and brought them together into a cracking good read even allowing for the difference in technology this still doesn't appear as dated as it could have.
Despite the fact that I really enjoyed this on both my first reading and my second for this review, I think because of the time difference I can only allow myself to award four stars. It's a decent enough book as an introduction to his writing and like many of his earlier books are standalone reads. I really enjoyed the twists in this and the way I felt a bit anxious at night after reading it, always a sign of a good thriller for me.
My copy is an old one I bought probably about ten years ago. I'm sure you can pick this up for a few pence plus postage, or look in the charity shops, always a good place for bargains in this climate.
Thanks for reading.
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Is it just me or has anyone else noticed how unmemorable and similar all Koontz?s book titles are? Cold Fire, Night Chills, Bad Place, Strangers, Phantoms, Whispers ? apart from the fact that it is difficult to remember which you have read and which you have not it is also hard to remember which were good and which were mediocre. Thank goodness for consumer reviews like this! THE STORY Jim Ironheart dedicates his life to follow impulses. He receives strange presentiments of fatal occurrences and travels thousands of miles to save the victims. While preventing a young boy from being run over by a reckless driver he meets journalist Holly Thorne. She becomes fascinated by him and starts to investigate him and his powers. The two soon become romantically involved and as they try to learn more about the psychic messages Jim receives they begin to discover that their lives are in danger. Jim had thought that it was just God acting through him but it soon becomes clear that there is also a far darker force at work, one that is determined to stop Holly from getting at the truth and is willing to kill her to do so. THE CHARACTERS Holly Thorne is a journalist. As we all know journalists are generally considered to be the lowest of the low; they pester those who have suffered loss to revel in their pain, they wreck lives in the pursuit of a headline and are concerned only with their own kudos and winning a Pulitzer Prize. How then can our heroine carry on in this profession? Koontz goes to great lengths to dissociate Holly from other hacks. She frequently muses that it is because she has never had a ruthless ability or stooped to underhand tactics that she has never been promoted and has not succeeded in her career. When she is involved in a tragedy of her own she launches into a tirade against journalism when one reporter dares to question her on how she is feeling. Quite why she persisted as long as she did in
her chosen vocation is unclear but Koontz clearly establishes her as a good woman pacing along the moral high ground. Holly?s main redeeming feature is her behaviour towards those she loves. After she has fallen for Jim she is ready to go to the end of the world to help him no matter what the dangers. Even when given and opportunity to escape from a supernatural being, which can pass to the real world from dreams (a la Freddie Kreuger), she stops in her tracks realising that no matter what the dangers she cannot leave Jim. Very noble I?m sure, if not a little insane, but we are given clear indications that she is a loving, caring and reliable woman. I will not go into as much detail examining our hero, Jim, for fear of spoiling the plot. However, a man who selflessly drops everything and risks his own life to save that of a stranger can?t be too bad. To do this once would be amazing but to do it on such a regular basis is astounding. No wonder Holly falls for him. Oh yes, and he has dreamy blue eyes! While we would all acknowledge the maxim ?You can?t make an omelette without breaking eggs? it would seem that, on occasion, Jim takes this a little too far. On one of his missions he shoots dead a grocery store robber who was about to kill a man and his young daughter. However, he then proceeds to fire another four rounds into the dead man?s face. Fulfilling righteous anger or teetering on the brink of insanity? Whichever the case, we get the distinct impression that our hero has another side to his nature. HORRIFIC While Koontz?s books sit within the horror genre, some readers may have been lulled into a false sense of security by some of his novels. Yes, they can be scary, yes they can give you goosebumps but they are not normally graphically horrific. This book is an exception. Once Holly has enraged the mysterious dark entity she finds herself visited by incredibly realistic visions of a hideous na
ture. She sees herself tortured and dying with her hands cut off but retaining a will of their own. She envisages herself hiding amongst dead bodies watching a crazy man who has ?gone postal? shooting innocent customers in a fast food restaurant. These episodes are described in detail by Koontz and we too feel as though we are present watching the abominable events unfold. We taste her fear as clearly as we may a Tunnock?s teacake in our own hand. Fans of the horror genre will marvel at Koontz?s skill in his narratives and in engendering despair and horror in the reader at the nature of the human condition. Those of a weaker disposition should avoid this book! DON?T FORGET YOUR RUBBER KNICKERS This is certainly one of the most satisfying Koontz?s I have come across for a while. The characters are interesting, the plot is complex and it is not until the final few pages of the book that all mysteries are solved. Koontz gives us a proper scare, which is lacking in some of his novels, and he has us glued to the pages. Well worth the bitten nails. FURTHER INFO Publisher: Headline Book Publishing, Euston Road, London Price: £6.99 ISBN: 0-7472-3605-4
Dean Koontz tackles yet another specter of evil and beyond with another competent book. Its one of the older ones and is packed full of his distinctive narratives and tension. A nice 400 pages on hard back is easy to read and you can breeze at a leisurely pace over a week or so in the dying summer sun. Its based around the typical mid thirties blue eyed handsome Californian guy that dresses most of Koontz books. Jim Ironheart is troubled by physic callings everytime the words lifeline are muttered from his unconscious mouth. A nervous sweat kicks in as he is dispatched to save alife of someone who is about to die, wherever it may be. Not so intrepid magazine reporter Holly Thorne (attractive and pert of course) witnesses the miracle and decides to investigate. Like the old days of real journalism she long since lost, the energized woman uncovers nine similar events involving the same handsome Ironheart. She gets sucked into the mystery as her infatuation grows. The deeper she goes in the more a windmill seeps into her dreams. But she cant let go and is sucked into the mission and the mans seductive blue eyes that hold many intriguing mysterious and danger. She follows the dashing hero to an “event” and finds her self at an airport with a man that predicts and tries to stop imminent death. Does a young attractive girl follow this man to where ever he may be going….. This is where the book goes where you don’t really want it to. The possibilities at this point are quite exciting but the author decides to go with safe ground and perhaps explores his own neurosis rather than a more enticing intelligent story line. Considering nine people have been selected from certain death by a man who thinks he’s God or worse gives the read great penchant for something special.?.Who is working through him, and is it evil or good is the only subject explored from hear on in. The book suffers some se
rious plagiarism mid passage from an event that took place in America last decade. This is by far the most exciting part of the book for me and saves the read. Saying that it starts well like watching a woman getting undressed. But just when you want to see some sumptuous breasts she’s wearing a support bra and the whole lot flops out and sags. Ok and you can skim a bit to the finish and you have read one more in the series if you’re a collector/fan I thought you dooyooers would like to read this passage as I think that’s why most of us are here….. “She was as a working class kid from a powerless family. She had been pulled by a life long need to feel important, to be included,a real insider. As a bright child who grew into a brighter person she had been puzzled by the apparent disorderliness of life, and she had been compelled to explain it as best she could with the power of word through journalism”.
Jim Ironheart risked his life to save a child. Reporter Holly Thorne decides there is a story here, and soon discovers that Jim has quietly performed 12 last-minute rescues. Jim believes God is working through him, but Holly is more cynical and delves further, placing both their lives in danger.