Newest Review: ... are usually running from or to something that's frightening or compelling. It's a period of writing that I sometimes wish he'd ret... more
Know Your Enemy.
Cold Fire - Dean Koontz
Member Name: QueenElf
Cold Fire - Dean Koontz
Advantages: An early book, but a strong story and good characters.
Disadvantages: A little dated now.
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.
This review may appear on other sites.
Summary: Well worth a read and an introduction to the author.