Book Review: The City by Dean Koontz

Posted June 27, 2014 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews / 4 Comments

Book Review: The City by Dean KoontzThe City by Dean Koontz
Genres: History, Memoir, Thriller
Published by Bantam on July 1, 2014
Pages: 416
Format: eARC


The city changed my life and showed me that the world is deeply mysterious. I need to tell you about her and some terrible things and wonderful things and amazing things that happened . . . and how I am still haunted by them. Including one night when I died and woke and lived again.

Here is the riveting, soul-stirring story of Jonah Kirk, son of an exceptional singer, grandson of a formidable “piano man,” a musical prodigy beginning to explore his own gifts when he crosses a group of extremely dangerous people, with shattering consequences. Set in a more innocent time not so long ago, The City encompasses a lifetime but unfolds over three extraordinary, heart-racing years of tribulation and triumph, in which Jonah first grasps the electrifying power of music and art, of enduring friendship, of everyday heroes.

The unforgettable saga of a young man coming of age within a remarkable family, and a shimmering portrait of the world that shaped him, The Cityis a novel that speaks to everyone, a dazzling realization of the evergreen dreams we all share. Brilliantly illumined by magic dark and light, it’s a place where enchantment and malice entwine, courage and honor are found in the most unexpected quarters, and the way forward lies buried deep inside the heart.

Also by this author: Saint Odd, The Silent Corner, The Whispering Room, The Crooked Staircase, The Forbidden Door, The Night Window

No, this isn’t one of Koontz’s typical horror stories, instead, it’s a look back into the past at events that shaped a man’s life in the New York City of 1966 through 1967.

I received this ARC from the publisher.

My Take
A lyrically beautiful story of love, honor, and support — and the kind of people who should have children! God knows I whine enough about the stories with parents who should never be allowed to have kids, that it’s a treat to read one with great parents.

I did have to keep reminding myself that this was a look back, memories of a short period of time in a man’s childhood. Mostly because I continually questioned how a nine-year-old could be so erudite. That whine over, it’s both memoir and thriller as Jonah spies on some scary people and introduces us to the amazing people in his life. It simply proves the wisdom of accepting people. It was only on looking through my notes that I realized that Koontz started with the chat of two old friends before he progressed into a synopsis of the story and then delved into its details. It could be confusing as Koontz flashes back and forth in time, but it works.

There are a number of quotes I love in this — and be aware that this is an ARC, which means the exact text may not survive the copyeditor’s pencil! I do expect, though, that the sentiment will still come through.

”. . . in the end it’s the people — and the kind of people they are — who make a city great or not.”

Oh, wow, again, looking back over some of the notes I made, now that I’ve read the story, the comments from the City are even more poignant, enough to make me cry. The silly thing is, as much as I hate to cry, I’ve found that crying over a story makes me believe the story is wonderful. Go figure . . . The bit about the “banish-the-devil music” is again, another moment for tears.

It’s a beautiful story of family love and support with an emphasis on decency and creative abilities back in a time when life was erupting between the races and between young and old.

”. . . one thing I learned from him was that being admired gives you more power than being feared.”

Okay, I do not get that sentence about Harmon Jessup being poor compared to Murkett. Near as I can tell they’re equal in their wealth — they’re both scumbags. I think Koontz’s point could be better made if that rich compared to … Murkett sentence were revamped.

Oh, crack me up. Tilton’s flight with Sylvia in walking pursuit will make you laugh. Then the tampon-as-gun…you’ll laugh even as you appreciate the embarrassment factor that Jonah hasn’t grasped yet, lol.

What’s with the “Co-Cola”??

Oh, Koontz is too right. Kids — and some adults, ahem — do indeed see extreme experiences as the truth for life to follow. And I do love Koontz’s depiction of the truth of it as that oscillation between one extreme to the other with the majority of our time spent in the doldrums, lol.

That is a beautiful, if creepy, description: “those silhouettes twitched underfoot like the many tangled legs of agitated spiders”. Can’t you just see this?

How very Koontz, that we’re born into a world of the dead since we’re all dying. Then his comment about how we politicize art . . . *eye roll* . . . he’s too right. I love that Amalia insists that art is subjective and means what each individual viewer sees in it. In my own artist days, I’d be around other artists who were creating and few of us were aiming at statements. Instead we were exploring techniques and color, effects and design. Sure, we might include a message in the art, but it was ideas on creation that were much more important. I remember wandering an exhibit and listening to a docent tell her group what the artist was saying, and I was laughing under my breath as I had been there when she was creating that particular work. And it wasn’t what the docent was expounding upon! Never be afraid to put your own thoughts into a piece. That you are thinking will please the artist. Even if it isn’t what she or he intended. For the most part, the artist will be more surprised than anything else by what you think.

Oh wow. You must read Koontz’s description of Fabritius’ painting, The Goldfinch — yep, it’s the image on Donna Tartt’s book, The Goldfinch — and if his depiction doesn’t bring you to tears, you just ain’t human! Then there’s Mr. Yoshioka’s description of the house tour he took Smaller on, ROFLMAO.

The City is definitely, IMO, a story that encourages reflection on what’s important in life. And Koontz emphasizes the best, even if he has to describe the worst.

Remember, it will be all right in the end.

The Story
It was the summer of Charles Whitman, Richard Speck, and death in the Mekong Delta, a summer that segued into the Summer of Love and dreams.

Dreams that encourage Jonah to investigate this suspicious woman. And this investigation leads to a friend. An unexpected one.

It would also lead to disaster.

The Characters
Jonah Ellington Basie Hines Eldridge Wilson Hampton Armstrong Kirklordy, I’d hate to be him signing formal documents, whew — takes after his Grandpa and has an eidetic memory for music. And wait till you read the why of that name! It’ll make you love Grandpa even more. Sylvia Bledsoe Kirk is Jonah’s mother and an incredible singer. Teddy Bledsoe is Grandpa, a piano man. Anita is Grandma, and she works for Monsignor McCarthy. It helps with tuition at Saint Scholastica’s. Tilton Kirk, a cook and con man, is Jonah’s father and Sylvia’s part-time husband. Jasmine is his wife.

George Yoshioka, who works at Metropolitan Suits, came through the internment camps with only his father, Omi, left alive. His mother, Kiku, and sister, Mariko, didn’t survive. It’s Jonah who teaches him to live again. Yabu Tamazaki, a.k.a., Bobby, works at the morgue for the Daily News. Toshi Katsumata, a.k.a., Tom, works as a clerk in the municipal court records office. Nakama Otani, a.k.a., Nick, has a gift for gab. Very useful for a cop. Rebecca Arikawa Tremaine works for a cruise ship company. Douglas T. Atherton was a provost at a private military academy. Setsuko Nozawa makes a great sleuth along with her dog, Toshiro Mifune. Irinka Vavilov is a friend of Mrs. Nozawa’s and has the scoop on Mace-Maskil. Omi Kobayashi is Mr. Yoshioka’s attorney.

Mrs. Donata Lorenzo is a great cook and looks after Jonah when his mother is singing at Slinky’s with the handsy Harmon Jessup. Tony Lorenzo is the husband taken too young. William Murkett is another handsy club owner. Mrs. Mary O’Toole is on the staff of the community center where Jonah goes to play piano; she teaches Jonah how to play. Albert Gluck is the cab driver who gives Sylvia the pendant that will save Jonah. Reginald Smaller is the apartment building’s super. Sister Agnes is a stern disciplinarian. Mr. Hern is the head of the music department at St. Scholastica. Johnson Oliver manages the Diamond Dust.

The awkward and very unstylish Malcolm Pomerantz is a tenor sax player and as much of a genius as Jonah. His older sister, Amalia, is a gem. I love how she snarks on about her nightmarish parents and her own slavery, and the enthusiasm she has for life . . . we should all be half so enthused. Aunt Judith and Uncle Duncan are most likely a lost cause.

The City, a.k.a., Miss Pearl, is the “soul of the city made flesh”, and she takes human form to understand how its people live. Joe Tortelli owns a lot of real estate in the city; Tony Urqell is his right hand man.

Lucas Drackman is a psychopath with a love for hurt. Bob was his father. Aurora Delvane is a writer with an interest in rodeo — and ya gotta read this to grasp just what momma means, lol! The very scary Fiona Cassidy, a.k.a., Eve Adams, and her twin, Felix, are friends of Lucas’. Aaron Kolshak is another former classmate. Mrs. Renata Kolshak didn’t survive long. Dr. Jubal Mace-Maskil doth protest too much. His late wife was Noreen.

The Cover & Title
The cover does not make me think of this story. It’s a city neighborhood at night with lit-up old fashioned street lights, and a lone man walking down a series of stairs that make up the sidewalk, which is set off from the houses by wrought iron fences as the light highlights the naked branches of trees.

The title is what saves Jonah, The City made manifest.

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4 responses to “Book Review: The City by Dean Koontz

    • ladystorm

      It was unexpected and a bit of a meander at first. As I read, I got pulled into it and crying towards the end. A sad story with a good moral at the end. Yes, I’d recommend reading it.

    • ladystorm

      No, it’s not typical Koontz, and he’s still a great writer. He sure made me cry in this one.

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