Dead Ringers by Christopher Golden

Frank Lindbergh, between jobs and a borderline alcoholic, is having a beer or three and lamenting on how his life has turned out when he hears an intruder in his house.  Confronting the intruder, he’s shocked to see that the intruder looks exactly like him.

When Tess Devlin spots her ex-husband, Nick, at a pedestrian crossing, she is furious when he pretends not to know her.  Phoning him, she realises that it can’t actually have been him, as he was miles away at the time.  But she’d recognise her ex-husband if she saw him, wouldn’t she?

So begins Dead Ringers, and one thing that I really liked about it was that it throws you straight in at the deep end – there’s no slow build up as you get to know the characters, and notice the odd thing happening, which gradually increases as you get further into the novel.  The first chapter opens with the attack in Frank’s house, and you get to know the characters and to try to figure out what’s going on simultaneously.  The pace and the action are kept up throughout, and I read this in two sittings, so desperate was I to know what was going on, and why there were imposters wearing other people’s faces.

I think that the idea of doppelgängers in fiction isn’t a particularly new one.  A similar device is used in Jack Finney’s The Body Snatchers and more recently The Three by Sarah Lotz, for example, and yet this was quite unlike anything I’ve read before.  The how and the why (which I won’t go into here as it would spoil the story) are fully explained, and I thought that this was an interesting new twist on the idea of body doubles.  If I have a minor criticism, it’s that I thought that more could have been done with the idea that the characters weren’t always sure if they were talking to the original or the copy, and I thought that they were too trusting at times.  This idea was raised a few times, and I liked the additional element of paranoia that this added and think that more could have been done with this.

I talk a lot on my blog about flawed and realistic characters.  I think that these are worth mentioning, as I don’t want to read about perfect characters with perfect lives.  I can’t relate to characters like this, as real people aren’t like that.  Golden’s characters are flawed, in one way or another.  But this idea is taken a step further.  If only one version of each character can come out of this alive, what if the doppelgängers, who are presented as air-brushed version of themselves (better hair and skin, a few pounds lighter), are the ones that deserve to live?  I loved the element of doubt that this added to the characters – again emphasising their flaws; not only do they have to live up the ideals of society, but they can now see what a better version of themselves would look like.  How do you compete with that?

I really enjoyed Dead Ringers.  It takes an old idea and gives it a new and innovative twist, and it’s delivery is creepy, gripping and fast-paced.  I’d recommend it to anyone whose looking for a creepy read now that the nights are drawing in, and for those who like their horror with ancient evils and sinister, abandoned houses with unpleasant pasts

Dead Ringers is published in the UK on 3 November 2015.  Many thanks to Katie Bradburn at Headline Publishing Group for providing a copy for review via Bookbridgr.

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