Picks and Pans Review: Cold Fire
Jim Ironheart is an ex-teacher living in Laguna Beach, Calif. Now and then, for no apparent reason, he utters the words "life line" and sets off for parts unknown. Guided by an unseen hand, he thrusts himself into situations where someone—usually a child—is in mortal danger. With an uncanny knack for knowing when a drunk driver is going to lose control of his car or when a 17,000-volt power line is about to explode, Ironheart swoops onto the scene and neatly performs a heroic last-minute rescue.
So far, so good.
As usual, fright novelist Koontz has an intriguing premise. But wait. Recovering from one very harrowing Good Samaritan gig, Ironheart gets a horrible feeling—you know, one of those feelings people in books like this often get—that "something hideous and merciless had been hovering near, something infinitely more savage and strange than anyone in recorded history had ever seen, dreamed, or imagined."
No point setting one's sights too low, but after a buildup like that, Koontz is hard-pressed to deliver. With the help of a reporter named Holly Thorne, Ironheart battles demons—both internal and external—to get at the root of his mysterious powers. The initial explanation is so prosaic that it can't possibly be true, and of course it isn't. But the eventual solution isn't much better.
In Koontz's better efforts, like Watchers and Lightning, the plots are sufficiently compelling, the protagonists so sympathetically drawn, that the reader can overlook the characters' ridiculous names or the many infelicitous phrasings, such as "traffic still clogged all lanes and moved like a snail herd being driven toward a gourmet restaurant." Here, that is harder to do.
In the end, Koontz's 55th novel is not unlike a cold fire: There's the glimmer of an idea, but it doesn't generate much heat. (Putnam, $21.95)