Headline, out November 3rd
They say you should never meet your doppelgänger – but what if you do, and they’re better than you?
Chris Golden’s latest novel hits the ground running, and doesn’t let up the pace until you’ve closed the back cover, with jolts to the system for both characters and reader from the first to the last page. It’s a strongly-written horror thriller, as a group of people all discover that there is someone out there on the streets of Boston who doesn’t just look precisely like them, but seems to be living a life that is somehow more fulfilling than that of their counterparts, whether they’re stepping into their shoes and getting the job that they wanted, or building a new identity. As they start to understand how – if not why – this has happened, there’s an increasing sense of paranoia reminiscent of Jack Finney’s best-known work, as they (and sometimes the reader) can’t be sure exactly who they are talking to: is it the real person, or the ringer?
As ever, Golden’s characterisation and dialogue draw you in quickly; the majority of the characters are Everyman and –woman, with stresses and strains in their lives that we can all associate with. It helps that there is a very clear sense of place in the story: the dead ringers of the title aren’t turning up in some strange Stepford-type community. The story is set in a bustling metropolis where such weirdnesses simply shouldn’t happen, where the temptation is (as the characters here do) to say you’ve been mistaken – until the truth becomes crystal clear.
Underneath his tense plot, Golden is saying something deeper about our desire to strive to be better. The duplicates represent – at least in some ways – an attempt at perfection, an ideal which most of us realise as we get older is something that we will not achieve without losing some part of our own identity. Our flaws and our mistakes all make us who we are and it’s in part realising that that helps our central characters through the story. To an extent, the novel is an extended riff on the Nietzsche quote about looking into the abyss – sometimes hell isn’t other people, it’s ourselves!
Verdict: A nicely escalating tale of terror with some strong underlying themes. 9/10