Dead Ringers | Christopher Golden | 2015 | Headline | 310p | Review copy | Buy the book
When Nick Devlin ignores his ex-wife on the street, even denying he knows her when she asks what he’s playing at, Tess is momentarily furious. But theirs was a difficult divorce and their subsequent relationship, carefully constructed to protect their daughter Maddie, isn’t easy. Who knows what games Nick might play? But when Tess arranges to meet her best friend Lili for drinks – always guaranteed to make her feel better – Tess is astounded to learn that Lili has heard that there is an artist in town who is a dead ringer for Lili. They set out to spot this ‘Nick’ on the streets again and they’re determined to confront this artist. It’s not long before Tess and Lili are convinced that at the very least something strange and inexplicable is going on. Whether they can persuade the real Nick to help them is another matter.
Meanwhile, Frank Lindbergh, an old friend of Nick, Tess and Lili, has every reason to believe the impossible. His doppelganger has attacked him in his home, chained him up like an animal, day in and day out, taunting the real Frank with all that he’s lost as this new Frank takes over his life.
Tess and Lili are determined to discover the truth, chasing the clues, which lead straight back into their past, to an event and place, right in the heart of historic Boston, that drew this group of friends together all those years ago. They have to put things right, that’s if the terror doesn’t kill them first.
A couple of years ago, I was scared and thrilled in equal measure by Christopher Golden’s Snowblind, a thoroughly entertaining and frightening tale that put me right off winter. I was so pleased to hear that Golden was ready to terrify me again in Dead Ringers, a horror novel that is different in many ways to Snowblind but shares one important thing in common (apart from both giving me the heebie jeebies) – their excellence.
Quite apart from the story, which is such a good one, Dead Ringers works so well because it has at its heart a fascinating and deeply likeable group of characters. Even Nick has a great deal going for him as we learn more about how he gets through his life, his complex feelings, and his care to build a happy life with his new girlfriend and his adored daughter. I loved Tess and Lili. Their friendship is one I can recognise and Tess’s relationship with her daughter Maddie is such a powerful force through the book. As for Maddie, she is wonderful – Golden has given Maddie her own distinct voice and personality. Frank’s ordeal at the hands of his doppelganger is terrible and we are made to feel deeply for him, despite his faults and irritations. In other words, Christopher Golden does a fine job in building up layers of back history and personality which do this book a grand service.
Another aspect which I really enjoyed is the immensely strong sense of place. Boston is the perfect setting for this novel, combining history and style, and it feels very true to the place. I love Boston and I am relieved to say that I shall recover from this book’s treatment of it, just as I did eventually rehabilitate my feelings towards snow after Snowblind.
There are some truly deliciously frightening scenes, characters and concepts in Dead Ringers. I read it late at night and I could not sleep without playing silly computer games for an hour afterwards on both nights! I love atmospheric books that chill me like this, books that don’t rely on gore and blood (although there is a little bit of that) but instead play tricks on the mind and haunt their victim. Sometimes, though, I’ve been disappointed by the ending of horror novels – the end just doesn’t live up to the menace that went before. But that is absolutely not a problem with Dead Ringers. I will never forget this book’s ending. It is spectacular. I get shivers down my spine just thinking about it. I cannot wait to see how Christopher Golden will terrify me next.