Koontz tends to write books with absolutely killer hooks and intros, but is much more uneven about middles and conclusions that live up to them. I am still annoyed that The Bad Place, which has the wonderful premise of a contemporary man who travels to an unknown planet or land in his sleep, sometimes bringing back riches and sometimes terrors, proceeded to an only barely related plot about detectives and genetic engineering rather than exploring the super-cool actual premise. This book also has a killer hook, and also proceeds to go in an unusual direction with it, but one which I found much more satisfying and surprising.

Jim Ironheart gets psychic commands to go save people, but doesn’t know who they’ll be or why they’re in danger until he gets there, and he never knows why that person rather than some other, out of all the people who are in danger every day. Reporter Holly Thorne finds out about him and, fascinated, approaches him to find out what the hell is going on. The two of them are attracted, but the romance takes second place to the mystery of who’s commanding Jim and why… and why they both are having terrifying nightmares that start manifesting in reality.

This is a really gripping, creepy book. It has horror elements, but it’s not really a horror novel. It’s more of a cross-genre thriller. And that’s all I can say without huge spoilers.

There’s a point where Jim is busy romancing Holly in a way that is just a little bit too romance-conventional considering the other weird shit going on. I thought, “This is a little weird and fast and it makes it seem like there’s something off about this guy, entirely apart from the obvious bizarre stuff surrounding him. If this was real life, he’d be psychotic, a serial killer, or at best profoundly psychologically messed up. But I think it’s just Koontz doing a bad job with romance conventions.”

HA HA NO. It is totally deliberate! Exactly one paragraph later, Holly has the exact same thought as me!

Jim IS profoundly psychologically messed up! The nightmares, the commands, the manifestations, and the evil that pursues them is all him – he has tremendous psychic powers, but due to trauma repressed everything and created an entire drama for himself in which he’s the hero and is pursued by an alien evil… which is basically mental fanfic of his favorite fantasy book when he was a kid, that he has the power to make real! It’s not exactly real-world psychology, but it makes sense in context and Koontz did a great job of having the reader slowly start thinking stuff like, “This seems a little weird/cheesy/convenient” right before Holly does.

The very ending falls a little flat because the romance is still going on even though the man the reader and Holly knew throughout the book was a child’s idea of a hero, not a real person, and the post-cathartic realization Jim is going to have to create a new (real this time) personality from scratch. But it’s still a really fun, clever, surprising book.



Cold Fire
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