When Tess Devlin meets her ex-husband in the street and is humiliated when he appears not to recognise her, she’s left angry and confused. It is only when she tells her best friend Lili about the encounter that the mystery deepens – just the other day, Lili was told about an artist who is her own exact double, working out of a gallery in the heart of the city. Meanwhile, alcoholic journalist Frank Lindbergh is attacked in his home and wakes up, naked and handcuffed inside his own basement. The man who assaulted him is not only Frank’s exact likeness, he says that he is Frank and he is taking over Frank’s life.
Who are these doppelgangers? What do they want and why are they keeping their ‘originals’ alive? Could it have something to do with the Otis Harrison House, an abandoned mansion where a handful of bodies were discovered several years earlier, seemingly victims of a demonic ritual that went obscenely wrong? And why has the psychomanteum – a kind of mirrored closet designed to communicate with the dead – that was discovered alongside those bodies suddenly reappeared inside the restaurant of the Nepenthe Hotel? But, most sinisterly, what are the motives of the raggedy blind man who seemingly appears out of nowhere, sniffing the air for the scent of his victims, who has already terrorised Tess and Lili, and now appears to be stalking their psychic friend Audrey?
Discovering the answers will involve returning to the Otis Harrison House, a place good people cross the street to avoid. Bad things have been happening around the outskirts of that house – a man attacked and killed by his own dog, another man murdered by a bizarre airstrike of birds that smashed through the windshield of his van – as if the building itself is the epicentre of evil. Yet even if Tess and her friends can summon up the courage to go inside, how long will it be before their doppelgangers take over their lives completely? And how can Tess be sure that the people she trusts aren’t actually doppelgangers themselves?
Dead Ringers is a tremendous read. Honestly, clichéd phrases like ‘unputdownable’ were created for books like this one. From its subtly affecting Invasion of the Bodysnatchers-style opening, it quickly twists and turns into something far nastier when the blind man appears and the psychomanteum is introduced, with the Otis Harrison House being a particularly well-realised masterstroke. Christopher Golden’s writing is hypnotic, he has a genius ability to make even the mundane seem terrifying and the fact that his characters are so ordinary and believable, that their reactions to what is happening around them are so true-to-life, makes the horror even more disturbing. Golden knows how to manipulate tension, and his imagery and capacity with language is first-class – not since Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, Stephen King’s The Shining and Peter Straub’s Ghost Story has this writer personally read an essentially haunted house (or haunted people?) novel that has flowed so elegantly on the page. It truly is a must-read for fans of the genre and the questions it raises about our reliance upon identity and the awful creeping banality of occult evil lurking unseen beneath the fabric of every-day life will keep you lying awake long after you’ve finished the last page.
DEAD RINGERS / AUTHOR: CHRISTOPHER GOLDEN / PUBLISHER: HEADLINE / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW