Fiction Reviews

Dead Ringers

(2015) Christopher Golden, Hodder, £8.99, pbk, 310pp, ISBN978-1-472-23428-5


Failing journalist Frank Lindbergh is attacked in his house and locked up in the basement, by a man with his face.  Tess Devlin sees her ex-husband and father of her daughter on the street, but he says that his name is Theo.  Then when she calls him on the phone he is in a cabin in the mountains.  Then Tessí friend Lili finds a gallery that is exhibiting paintings by a woman who looks like her called Devani.

The doppelganger or double story is not often used these days, so it is a nice surprise for it to be revived.  While this can result in wider stakes such as in The Body Snatchers, Golden keeps the effects limited so that he can focus on main cast, with a limited time period and location kept to around the city.  The doubles bring out the regrets and doubts of the leads as they move into their lives.  Golden stresses these, giving the leads depth and dimensions.  It is the scenes with Frank, trapped by his double getting the success that he wanted for himself, that are the most powerful in the book.

It is when the source of the evil is revealed around about the middle, that I felt that the narrative was weakened.  We are back to the old house with a dark past again, that causes bad things to happen to people and animals.  However the source of the supernatural evil is at least something new and different brought into a hotel.  There is also the introduction of a character around the middle, Audrey Pang, who could have been brought in at the start when everybody else was being introduced. She is not a bad character, it is just strange to see her brought in around the mid-point, making her feel short-changed, when she is given an interesting back-story in her introductory chapter.

But Golden does recover the story from this potential wobble, building on the themes of the book of reflections and idealised versions.  In the end the source of the evil is not something epic, but something minor, pathetic and desperate.  This joins up with the idea of the idealised version of something, with the originators of the evil ultimately being lesser versions of what they wanted to be.  The narrative does build to a series of tense confrontations for the climax when the characters have to confront their doubles and their plan to survive.

This is not a horror novel that radically changes the genre or re-works its principles. But it is a well-written intelligent story focusing on an interesting diverse range of characters facing a supernatural threat.  That is fine.  This is intended as a small-scale work.  Golden keeps referring to the short passage of time in the narrative.  He is not trying to pad out the story beyond its limits and we can all think of one book, we have read that has done that.  It is not a radically cut down narrative, but it is able to be self-contained in around 300 pages.  This is a skill that Golden has been able develop through experience.  Dead Ringers is an example of the sort of well-written, small-scale, character based supernatural horror novel that you didnít realise was particularly rare until it turned up.

David Allkins

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