The City

The City

3.8 93
by Dean Koontz

View All Available Formats & Editions

#1 New York Times bestselling author Dean Koontz is at the peak of his acclaimed powers with this major new novel—a rich, multi-layered story that moves back and forth across decades and generations as a gifted musician relates the “terrible and wonderful” events that began in his city in 1967, when he was ten.


#1 New York Times bestselling author Dean Koontz is at the peak of his acclaimed powers with this major new novel—a rich, multi-layered story that moves back and forth across decades and generations as a gifted musician relates the “terrible and wonderful” events that began in his city in 1967, when he was ten.
There are millions of stories in the city—some magical, some tragic, others terror-filled or triumphant. Jonah Kirk’s story is all of those things as he draws readers into his life in the city as a young boy, introducing his indomitable grandfather, also a “piano man”; his single mother, a struggling singer; and the heroes, villains, and everyday saints and sinners who make up the fabric of the metropolis in which they live—and who will change the course of Jonah’s life forever. Welcome to The City, a place of evergreen dreams where enchantment and malice entwine, where courage and honor are found in the most unexpected corners and the way forward lies buried deep inside the heart.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Bad things happen, but good things happen, too. That seems to be the message of bestseller Koontz's maudlin account of the life of Jonah Kirk, saddled by his parents with no less than seven middle names, each the last name of a famous jazz musician. The novel, which recounts the consequences of Jonah's encounters with a woman "who claimed she was the city," offers airy optimistic passages that won't persuade anyone acquainted with the harder side of life to always look on the bright side of it: "In fact, time teaches us that the musical score of life oscillates between that of Psycho and that of The Sound of Music, with by far the greatest number of our days lived to the strains of an innocuous and modestly budgeted picture." Jonah's relationships with his gifted, loving mother and with his absent, hustler father are clichés, and the concept that a city, which after all is made "great or not" by its people, takes the form of an attractive woman is too underdeveloped to have any charm. (July)
Kirkus Reviews
Koontz (Innocence, 2013, etc.) genre-bends the metaphysical into a coming-of-age story, one measuring love’s parameters.Honoring his racial and musical heritage, young Jonah bears seven middle names in homage to the African-American greats of swing music. He's the son of Sylvia Bledsoe Kirk, a singer gifted enough to have won scholarships, and Tilton Kirk, a rogue smooth enough to get Sylvia pregnant before she could get to college.There’s an off-again, on-again marriage, Tilton fantasizing about celebrity chef-dom and Sylvia working at Woolworths and singing in nightclubs. The most constant presence in Jonah’s life is grandfather Teddy Bledsoe, "a piano man," a big band veteran now working as a lounge pianist. The Beatles rock radio and records, but preteen Jonah is entranced with big band music, and he’s a gifted pianist. The narrative covers the '60s shake-ups, including opposition to the Vietnam War. Tilton’s skirt-chasing ensnares him in a bomb plot by two psychopaths posing as political agitators, putting Jonah and Sylvia in great danger. Koontz writes Sylvia and Teddy as too good to be true, and Jonah’s too-wise childhood perspective seems overly influenced by Jonah-the-adult’s narration. There are, nevertheless, affecting supporting characters, like the reclusive Mr. Yoshioka, once a Manzanar internee. The cardboard-cutout antagonists are not fully formed, but Koontz’s exploration of the Bledsoes' familial bond gives the story heart. The action is predictable and less interesting than Koontz’s discourses on swing music and his allusions to art, race and social mores. Koontz displays his usual gift for phrase-making—"moments when buildings and bridges, all of it, seemed like an illusion projected on a screen of rain." The setting is New York City, but the great metropolis plays no real part in the narrative other than its metaphysical manifestation in the form of "Miss Pearl," an amorphous character appearing at critical junctures like Cinderella’s fairy godmother. Koontz offers a passable modern fairy tale about good and evil, love and loyalty.
From the Publisher
Praise for The City
“Beautifully crafted and poignant . . . The City is many things: serious, lighthearted, nostalgic, courageous, scary, and mysterious. . . . [It] will have readers staying up late at night.”—New York Journal of Books
“[Koontz] can flat-out write. . . . 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.”Bookreporter

Acclaim for Dean Koontz
“Perhaps more than any other author, Koontz writes fiction perfectly suited to the mood of America: novels that acknowledge the reality and tenacity of evil but also the power of good . . . that entertain vastly as they uplift.”Publishers Weekly

“A rarity among bestselling writers, Koontz continues to pursue new ways of telling stories, never content with repeating himself.”—Chicago Sun-Times
“Tumbling, hallucinogenic prose. ‘Serious’ writers . . . might do well to examine his technique.”—The New York Times Book Review
“[Koontz] has always had near-Dickensian powers of description, and an ability to yank us from one page to the next that few novelists can match.”—Los Angeles Times
“Koontz is a superb plotter and wordsmith. He chronicles the hopes and fears of our time in broad strokes and fine detail, using popular fiction to explore the human condition.”—USA Today
“Characters and the search for meaning, exquisitely crafted, are the soul of [Koontz’s] work. . . . One of the master storytellers of this or any age.”—The Tampa Tribune
“A literary juggler.”The Times (London)

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
6.30(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.60(d)

Read an Excerpt

chapter 1

My name is Jonah Ellington Basie Hines Eldridge Wilson Hampton Armstrong Kirk. From as young as I can remember, I loved the city. Mine is a story of love reciprocated. It is the story of loss and hope, and of the strangeness that lies just beneath the surface tension of daily life, a strangeness infinite fathoms in depth.

The streets of the city weren’t paved with gold, as some immigrants were told before they traveled half the world to come there. Not all the young singers or actors, or authors, became stars soon after leaving their small towns for the bright lights, as perhaps they thought they would. Death dwelt in the metropolis, as it dwelt everywhere, and there were more murders there than in a quiet hamlet, much tragedy, and moments of terror. But the city was as well a place of wonder, of magic dark and light, magic of which in my eventful life I had much experience, including one night when I died and woke and lived again.


When I was eight, I would meet the woman who claimed she was the city, though she wouldn’t make that assertion for two more years. She said that more than anything, cities are people. Sure, you need to have the office buildings and the parks and the nightclubs and the museums and all the rest of it, but in the end it’s the people—­and the kind of people they are—­who make a city great or not. And if a city is great, it has a soul of its own, one spun up from the threads of the millions of souls who have lived there in the past and live there now.

The woman said this city had an especially sensitive soul and that for a long time it had wondered what life must be like for the people who lived in it. The city worried that in spite of all it had to offer its citizens, it might be failing too many of them. The city knew itself better than any person could know himself, knew all of its sights and smells and sounds and textures and secrets, but it didn’t know what it felt like to be human and live in those thousands of miles of streets. And so, the woman said, the soul of the city took human form to live among its people, and the form it took was her.

The woman who was the city changed my life and showed me that the world is a more mysterious place than you would imagine if your understanding of it was formed only or even largely by newspapers and magazines and TV—­or now the Internet. I need to tell you about her and some terrible things and wonderful things and amazing things that happened, related to her, and how I am still haunted by them.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. I tend to do that. Any life isn’t just one story; it’s thousands of them. So when I try to tell one of my own, I sometimes go down an alleyway when I should take the main street, or if the story is fourteen blocks long, I sometimes start on block four and have to backtrack to make sense.

Also, I’m not tapping this out on a keyboard, and I tend to ramble when I talk, like now into this recorder. My friend Malcolm says not to call it rambling, to call it oral history. That sounds pretentious, as though I’m as certain as certain can be that I’ve achieved things that ensure I’ll go down in history. Nevertheless, maybe that’s the best term. Oral history. As long as you understand it just means I’m sitting here shooting off my mouth. When someone types it out from the tapes, then I’ll edit to spare the reader all the you-­knows and uhs and dead-­end sentences, also to make myself sound smarter than I really am. Anyway, I must talk instead of type, because I have the start of arthritis in my fingers, nothing serious yet, but since I’m a piano man and nothing else, I have to save my knuckles for music.

Malcolm says I must be a closet pessimist, the way I so often say, “Nothing serious yet.” If I feel a phantom pain in one leg or the other and Malcolm asks why I keep massaging my calf, I’ll say, “Just this weird thing, nothing serious yet.” He thinks I’m convinced it’s a deep-­vein blood clot that’ll break loose and blow out my lungs or brain later in the day, though that never crossed my mind. I just say those three words to reassure my friends, those people I worry about when they have the flu or a dizzy spell or a pain in the calf, because I’d feel relieved if they reassured me by saying, “Nothing serious yet.”

The last thing I am is a closet pessimist. I’m an optimist and always have been. Life’s given me no reason to expect the worst. As long as I’ve loved the city, which is as long as I can remember, I have been an optimist.

I was already an optimist when all this happened that I’m telling you about. Although I’ll reverse myself now and then to give you some background, this particular story really starts rolling in 1967, when I was ten, the year the woman said she was the city. By June of that year, I had moved with my mom into Grandpa’s house. My mother, whose name was Sylvia, was a singer. Grandpa’s name was Teddy Bledsoe, never just Ted, rarely Theodore. Grandpa Teddy was a piano man, my inspiration.

The house was a good place, with four rooms downstairs and four up, one and three-­quarter baths. The piano stood in the big front room, and Grandpa played it every day, even though he performed four nights a week at the hotel and did background music three afternoons at the department store, in their fanciest couture department, where a dress might cost as much as he earned in a month at both jobs and a fur coat might be priced as much as a new Chevy. He said he always took pleasure in playing, but when he played at home, it was only for pleasure.

“If you’re going to keep the music in you, Jonah, you’ve got to play a little bit every day purely for pleasure. Otherwise, you’ll lose the joy of it, and if you lose the joy, you won’t sound good to those who know piano—­or to yourself.”

Outside, behind the house, a concrete patio bordered a small yard, and in the front, a porch overlooked a smaller yard, where this enormous maple tree turned as red as fire in the autumn. And when the leaves fell, they were like enormous glowing embers on the grass. You might say it was a lower-­middle-­class neighborhood, I guess, although I never thought in such terms back then and still don’t. Grandpa Teddy didn’t believe in categorizing, in labeling, in dividing people with words, and neither do I.

The world was changing in 1967, though of course it always does. Once the neighborhood was Jewish, and then it went Polish Catholic. Mr. and Mrs. Stein, who had moved from the house but still owned it, rented to my grandparents in 1963, when I was six, and sold it to them two years later. They were the first black people to live in that neighborhood. He said there were problems at the start, of the kind you might expect, but it never got so bad they wanted to move.

Grandpa attributed their staying power to three things. First, they kept to themselves unless invited. Second, he played piano free for some events at Saint Stanislaus Hall, next to the church where many in the neighborhood attended Mass. Third, my grandma, Anita, was secretary to Monsignor McCarthy.

Grandpa was modest, but I won’t be modest on his behalf. He and Grandma didn’t have much trouble also because they had about them an air of royalty. She was tall, and he was taller, and they carried themselves with quiet pride. I used to like to watch them, how they walked, how they moved with such grace, how he helped her into her coat and opened doors for her and how she always thanked him. They dressed well, too. Even at home, Grandpa wore suit pants and a white shirt and suspenders, and when he played the piano or sat down for dinner, he always wore a tie. When I was with them, they were as warm and amusing and loving as any grandparents ever, but I was at all times aware, with each of them, that I was in a Presence.

In April 1967, my grandma fell dead at work from a cerebral embolism. She was just fifty-­two. She was so vibrant, I never imagined that she could die. I don’t think anyone else did, either. When she passed away suddenly, those who knew her were grief-­stricken but also shocked. They harbored unexpressed anxiety, as if the sun had risen in the west and set in the east, suggesting a potential apocalypse if anyone dared to make reference to that development, as if the world would go on safely turning only if everyone conspired not to remark upon its revolutionary change.

At the time, my mom and I were living in an apartment downtown, a fourth-­floor walk-­up with two street-­facing windows in the living room; in the kitchen and my little bedroom, there were views only of the sooty brick wall of the adjacent building, crowding close. She had a gig singing three nights a week in a blues club and worked the lunch counter at Woolworth’s five days, waiting for her big break. I was almost ten and not without some street smarts, but I must admit that for a time, I thought that she would be equally happy if things broke either way—­a gig singing in bigger and better joints or a job as a waitress in a high-­end steakhouse, whichever came first.

We went to stay with Grandpa for the funeral and a few days after, so he wouldn’t be alone. Until then, I’d never seen him cry. He took off work for a week, and he kept mostly to his bedroom. But I sometimes found him sitting in the window seat at the end of the second-­floor hallway, just staring out at the street, or in his armchair in the living room, an unread newspaper folded on the lamp table beside him.

When I tried to talk to him, he would lift me into his lap and say, “Let’s just be quiet now, Jonah. We’ll have years to talk over everything.”

I was small for my age and thin, and he was a big man, but I felt greatly gentled in those moments. The quiet was different from other silences, deep and sweet and peaceful even if sad. A few times, with my head resting against his broad chest, listening to his heart, I fell asleep, though I was past the age for regular naps.

He wept that week only when he played the piano in the front room. He didn’t make any sounds in his weeping; I guess he was too dignified for sobbing, but the tears started with the first notes and kept coming as long as he played, whether ten minutes or an hour.

While I’m still giving you background here, I should tell you about his musicianship. He played with good taste and distinction, and he had a tremendous left hand, the best I’ve ever heard. In the hotel where he worked, there were two dining rooms. One was French and formal and featured a harpist, and the décor either made you feel elegant or made you ill. The second was an Art Deco jewel in shades of blue and silver with lots of glossy-­black granite and black lacquer, more of a supper club, where the food was solidly American. Grandpa played the Deco room, providing background piano between seven and nine o’clock, mostly American-­standard ballads and some friskier Cole Porter numbers; between nine and midnight, three sidemen joined him, and the combo pumped it up to dance music from the 1930s and ’40s. Grandpa Teddy sure could swing the keyboard.

Those days right after his Anita died, he played music I’d never heard before, and to this day I don’t know the names of any of those numbers. They made me cry, and I went to other rooms and tried not to listen, but you couldn’t stop listening because those melodies were so mesmerizing, melancholy but irresistible.

After a week, Grandpa returned to work, and my mom and I went home to the downtown walk-­up. Two months later, in June, when my mom’s life blew up, we went to live with Grandpa Teddy full-­time.


Sylvia Kirk, my mother, was twenty-­nine when her life blew up, and it wasn’t the first time. Back then, I could see that she was pretty, but I didn’t realize how young she was. Only ten myself, I felt anyone over twenty must be ancient, I guess, or I just didn’t think about it at all. To have your life blow up four times before you’re thirty would take something out of anyone, and I think it drained from my mom just enough hope that she never quite built her confidence back to what it once had been.

When it happened, school had been out for weeks. Sunday was the only day that the community center didn’t have summer programs for kids, and I was staying with Mrs. Lorenzo that late afternoon and evening. Mrs. Lorenzo, once thin, was now a merry tub of a woman and a fabulous cook. She lived on the second floor and accepted a little money to look after me when there were no other options, primarily when my mom sang at Slinky’s, the blues joint, three nights a week. Sunday wasn’t one of those three, but Mom had gone to a big-­money neighborhood for a celebration dinner, where she was going to sign a contract to sing five nights a week at what she described as “a major venue,” a swanky nightclub that no one would ever have called a joint. The club owner, William Murkett, had contacts in the recording industry, too, and there was talk about putting together a three-­girl backup group to work with her on some numbers at the club and to cut a demo or two at a studio. It looked like the big break wouldn’t be a steakhouse waitress job.

We expected her to come for me after eleven o’clock, but it was only seven when she rang Mrs. Lorenzo’s bell. I could tell right off that something must be wrong, and Mrs. Lorenzo could, too. But my mom always said she didn’t wash her laundry in public, and she was dead serious about that. When I was little, I didn’t understand what she meant, because she did, too, wash her laundry in the communal laundry room in the basement, which had to be as public as you could wash it, except maybe right out in the street. That night, she said a migraine had just about knocked her flat, though I’d never heard of her having one before. She said that she hadn’t been able to stay for the dinner with her new boss. While she paid Mrs. Lorenzo, her lips were pressed tight, and there was an intensity, a power, in her eyes, so that I thought she might set anything ablaze just by staring at it too long.


Meet the Author

Dean Koontz, the author of many #1 New York Times bestsellers, lives in Southern California with his wife, Gerda, their golden retriever, Anna, and the enduring spirit of their golden, Trixie.

Brief Biography

Newport Beach, California
Date of Birth:
July 9, 1945
Place of Birth:
Everett, Pennsylvania
B.S. (major in English), Shippensburg University, 1966

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >

The City: A Novel 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 93 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Characters you love, villians you hate, a wonderful story well told, The City is a fast enjoyable read. Like most of Koontz's work it has an overall message of hope and a reminder that life and most people are good. This is one I will re-read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I like this book. I found it more character driven than plot driven. The characters are vivid and memorable. I found myself caring for them. I always enjoy the mystery of Dean Koontz books. This one relied on this less than it relied on character development, but it's still very much worth the read. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One of the.most lovely books I have ever read. May we all.have the beauty and grace described as only Mr. Koontz can. Wonderful characters.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I appreciate the lengthly reviews when the overview is completely lacking. I need a bit more info to make sure I'm not paying for something I've previously purchased. Those pesky re-releases cost me money! So please stop being so snotty with your complaints. It you don't want to know so much, don't read it... move on.
TomHarrington More than 1 year ago
I have read just about every novel that Koontz has written. And I have enjoyed just about everyone of them but this was a first for me - I gave up on this book and donated it to the library. I just couldn't take how slow it was developing. I become very accustomed to Koontz's books being very gripping and a page turner, chapter after chapter. However after weeks and weeks of reading this book I just couldn't take it anymore.  - Sincerely, a very devoted but disappointed  fan   
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love all Dean Koontz works, but this was disappointing. The characters are great, but the story itself fell flat. I found myself finishing it because I kept hoping the story would redeem itself. It did not. If you are new to Koontz, pick any other book of his before this one.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I always admire his depiction of charactors and storytelling expertise. Even though this story is rich in soulful content, I can't help but say it lacked the imagination  I'm addicted to. This narrative is still well written but not what interests me.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very slow. I kept reading hoping it would get better but never did. Too wordy. I've read Dean koontz before and the description sounded interesting but by chapter 34 I put it down. A waste of money
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It is a little slow moving till halfway through, but stick with it, it's worth it! Gives flashbacks to important historical times in our country,and speaks to the soul of ANY city and the blending of good AND bad people in them. It is different from Koontz's usual, but I took a little more meaningful feeling from it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was a slower book then usual for koontz...however, still incredibly engrossing...character driven, and beautifully written..i felt fulfilled and ended the book with a smile on my face..
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I found this book disappointing and not up to koontz' typical story telling abilities. The cover was illustrated beautifully and pulled me in but had nothing to do with the story. This was very boring to me.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am a huge fan of Dean Koontz. I usually love everything he writes but not this one. I liked the characters but the story is just so very slow.
barrycol More than 1 year ago
Only got half way through and gave up.
dee329 More than 1 year ago
I wanted to have the story continued. I liked this one!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was a great book. Dean Koontz does a great job writing, so good that you get emotionally into the book. It is a a little different than some of his other books, I think a bit more heartwarming. And I am glad that he touched on Japanese interment camps, I bet there are a lot of Americans that don't even know that happened in our country, you never hear about it. I have read a lot of his books and this one is up in my top 3 and I will probably read it again it was so good.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Brilliant Novel! Another great story by Dean Koontz.
Adventurer-in-print More than 1 year ago
This story keeps you spellbound to the last page. If you have read any of his other books you will love this one.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was such an unexpected yet delightful story! Kudos to Koontz from writing from a Black man's perspective set in the civil rights era. This story is touching, realistic and hopeful and you are the better for reading it. I loved it!!
ShibaInu_Dallas More than 1 year ago
This was undoubtably one of the best modern quasi horror, suspense novel I have read in a while. The story unfolds at a quiet pace slowly building to a terrifying climax that was nothing short of brilliant. This was so well done that I sat on the review for about a week, not entirely sure what to say other than Wow.… I generally don’t like stories that make me cry, but this one was so filled with hope that despite tragedy the sentiment of “this too shall pass” kept me reading. I love historical fiction and this book takes us to the heart of the counter revolution of the 60s and 70s. But this tale is not one of protests, and riots, though those happen viewed through t.v. or newspaper, but one told through music, and a family of African American Musicians. The story is a sort of memoir from the point of view of Jonah Kirk looking back on his life and three important years as the first page states, “When I was eight, I would meet the woman who claimed she was the city…” So this story is both about Jonah, but also the City, and the folks who live within her. It is also a story about what connects us to others, and what makes a community.…The good and the bad. There is an element of magic and mystery that threads through the whole novel and through it all there is music. Mr. Koontz threads a fictional family through very real history and does it with perfect pitch. This offers a magical, mysterious, terrible, horrible, murderous, wondrous look at life in The City. And Yes, I did pre order a signed copy of the book. That is how much I liked it!
RandeeBaty More than 1 year ago
I am not typically a Dean Koontz reader. In fact, I think I’ve only read one other book by Dean Koontz, it was years ago and I don’t even remember what the name of it or what it was about. When I saw The City on Netgalley, I decided to give him another try. Apparently, this one is not the usual Koontz offering. The City is the story of Jonah Kirk, a 10 year old African-American boy who lives with him mother, his father having deserted them. It’s told in hindsight when Kirk is in his 50’s and I think the style works really well. Kirk is visited by a woman that no one else meets and she gives him little looks into what the future holds. He also has dreams that seem to foretell events. She miraculously provides him with a piano which he has phenomenal talent for just as his grandfather, who is a piano man, did. His mother is a singer and the family life revolves around music. One of the most touching parts of the book is his friendship with an older Japanese man in his building who becomes his ally as events start to unravel. There’s a murderous psychopath, a woman who likes to set off bombs, a true believer in The Cause and Jonah’s criminal father as the cast of bad guys. From what I’ve read from other people, a Koontz book is usually some type of creepy horror story. This is not a horror story. It definitely has some creepy elements and I enjoyed those but, at least to me, it’s not scary. The whole thing has more the feel of walking through a dream. While there are plenty of bad guys to go around, the feeling of softness, love, friendship and gentility dominated the book. Maybe that’s why some Koontz fans are disappointed with it. I loved it. It was showed the best and worst of humanity in a well-told tale. Thank you to Netgalley for the opportunity to read and review this book.
RonnaL More than 1 year ago
It's very difficult for me to pin point why I enjoy Koontz's writing so much, but I thoroughly enjoy every book of his that I have read.  It's the way he turns a phrase, and seven words are actually better than one word in his writing.  He takes simple thoughts and makes them sound profound. He makes me think with just the simplest statements.  For example, in THE CITY, he says numerous times, "no matter what happens, everything will be all right in the end.".  For most people's belief systems, this is very true, but I never thought of it in such a straight forward way. THE CITY is basically the coming of age story of a young African American boy, Jonah Kirk,  born in the late 40's.  He tells his life story around the events of the day.  He's a musical prodigy from a musical family.  Though his father had left the family when Jonah was very young,  circumstances happen where his father's actions actually have a profound affect on Jonah's life. It's difficult to say any more about this story without giving spoilers, so I'll just say that Koontz still remains one of my favorite authors and I think that it's definitely worth any serious reader's time to enjoy the style and stories of Koontz.  I listened to this on Audible which I believe enhanced this story because it seemed as though Jonah was actually talking about his own life. 
Anonymous 12 days ago
I liked the story. All the heros of this tale were very well developed. I like the message that all the news is not bad news - it's only that it's reported on so much and so repeatedly.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Read this book
PatAK More than 1 year ago
I have to agree with those others who said they were disappointed with this book. It just wasn't as good as Koontz's usual great novels. The characters were fine, but I got a little lost at some points and it just didn't keep me that interested.