Dean Koontz has had a long and storied writing career that started back in the late 1960s, initially finding some success in the sci-fi genre. In the 1970s, he branched out into horror and thriller novels written under his own name and a handful of pseudonyms. The reason that authors like Koontz and his contemporary, Stephen King, have remained relevant in the highly competitive world of publishing is simple: they can flat-out write. THE CITY is a perfect example of how Koontz has matured as a writer. Here is a story of hope and looking backwards wrapped in the guise of a coming-of-age tale.
The book is based in New York City, and the story uses that backdrop as a character. Koontz poses these fictional questions: Does a city have a soul? Who is the ultimate arbiter of art? What are the parameters of fate --- and free will? The limits of love and forgiveness? Can an “axe man” blow away the Beast?
"Dean Koontz has created a terrific character in young Jonah Kirk, blessing him with natural and supernatural gifts, along with a love of science fiction novels and a strong moral sense of right and wrong."
Readers are introduced to a man who was a one-time musical prodigy until a fateful event forever changed his life and put him on a different path. His full name is Jonah Ellington Basie Hines Eldridge Wilson Hampton Armstrong Kirk. He goes by just “Jonah Kirk” and lives with his mother, Sylvia --- an accomplished vocalist and nightclub singer --- and his grandfather, Teddy, a top-notch piano player.
When Jonah is eight years old, he meets a strange and magical woman named Pearl. Pearl says she is the city and shares this claim with him two years after their initial meeting. She also is able to educate Jonah about his power to predict the future and that he should heed the warnings that come to him in his dreams. Specifically, he has bad feelings about a woman named Fiona, who lives in the same apartment building as him.
Jonah's father, Tilton, abandoned him and his mother but still plays a role in the story, and his fate is intertwined with Jonah's. It seems that Fiona, Tilton and a particularly bad man named Lucas Drackman are part of a social terrorist group. They have bombed specific targets around the city in protest of the Vietnam War and other social injustices --- not caring who was injured or killed in the process.
Jonah is linked to some very special characters in THE CITY --- specifically, the Japanese man who lives in his building and helps him on his missions, Mr. Yoshioka, and his lifelong friend from across the street, Malcolm, a terrific saxophone player. They, along with Malcolm's older sister, Amalia, all will play significant roles in trying to stop a tragic event that will change each of them forever.
Jonah was born into music, and that appreciation grows through his relationship with Malcolm. However, it is through the older and more mature Amalia that he develops his love and appreciation of art. There is a poignant scene in which the three of them are visiting the Museum of Modern Art. Jonah is moved by The Goldfinch, ironically the same painting that was the title focus of Donna Tartt's award-winning novel.
Dean Koontz has created a terrific character in young Jonah Kirk, blessing him with natural and supernatural gifts, along with a love of science fiction novels and a strong moral sense of right and wrong. THE CITY is far more than a coming-of-age story. The message of hope and depiction of how the choices you make can change your life ring true and will remain with you once the book has been closed.
Reviewed by Ray Palen on July 2, 2014