cover image Cold Fire

Cold Fire

Dean R. Koontz. Putnam, $22.95 (382pp) ISBN 978-0-399-13579-8

Koontz ( The Bad Place ) leads us a nice chase for about two-thirds of his latest thriller, after which he sinks into soap opera. Responding to an inexplicable compulsion, ex-schoolteacher Jim Ironheart flies from Southern California to Portland, Ore., where he averts, at the last minute, the accidental death of a schoolboy. Local reporter Holly Thorne, taken with Jim's piercing gaze, sets up a computer search for data on similar rescues. She finds a dozen such cases across the U.S.; every news item mentions a mysterious ``Jim'' with penetrating eyes. As she follows the story of a lifetime, Holly realizes Jim is being guided by some strange Power. Confronting him, she finds he has no idea of the source of the Power. Now in love with Jim, Holly starts sharing his nightmares and abandons the story to help him. Their initially exciting adventures then yield to rather tepid encounters with ``The Friend,'' who may be: an alien on earth for 10,000 years; ``The Enemy'' in disguise; a projection of Jim's hyperkinetic personality; or all of the above. Suspense succumbs to psychobabble, ushering in a predictable ending. Literary Guild and Doubleday Book Club main selections; Mystery Guild featured alternate. (Jan.)