Christopher Golden adds another quality horror/thriller to his immense body of work with Dead Ringers, a tale of supernatural dopplegängers tormenting a small group of colleagues and friends.
Some authors lay all their cards on the table at the beginning of the story and let readers watch how everything plays out. In this book, Golden chooses to reveal details to us as he reveals them to his characters, making for a much more immersive and, at times, disorienting experience. This approach, coupled with Golden’s solid character work and relentless pacing, makes Dead Ringers a thoroughly enjoyable read.
The book opens with a home invasion that brings Frank Lindbergh face-to-face with a man that looks uncannily like him. The man makes Frank a prisoner in his own home and promptly takes over – and improves – Frank’s life. Within a few days New Frank has a better job and better prospects than Original Frank has ever been able to muster on his own, and he taunts his prisoner with this information every chance he gets.
Meanwhile, Tess Devlin has a run-in with her ex-husband, Nick, a man with whom she shares a daughter and has, until now, shared an amicable enough post-marriage relationship. When she later confronts him about his rude behavior he’s understandably confused, as he wasn’t even in the same city as Tess when the encounter happened. Tess’s friend Lili soon has her own “body double” story to share when she’s mistaken for a rising artist at a local gallery opening. And before long, Tess learns there’s somebody out there sharing her face – and trying to muscle their way into her life.
As their encounters with their doubles become more frequent and more threatening, the trio discovers a common thread that ties them, as well as a couple of others (including poor, imprisoned Frank Lindbergh) together: an archaeological project at an old mansion known as the Otis Harrison House. They’d all been part of a grisly discovery that was made there, and it seems that the forces that they disturbed have just now found a way to cross over for retribution. Everything locks into place about midway through the book, leading to a breakneck, tense and terrifying run to the book’s conclusion.
While there’s nothing in Dead Ringers that’s going to revolutionize the genre, I have to point out the unique approach Golden took in building his main group of characters. These people, who will come to depend on each other for their lives as the book progresses, are a far cry from the usual tight-knit group you often find in books like this. Tess and Lili are close, and while Tess and ex-husband Nick have worked hard to be friendly, there is definite tension there. Audrey, an occultist, is looked upon with suspicion by most of the others, and none of them really cared for Frank – although he does share a bit of a secret with Tess from their time working together. These relationships, already somewhat strained in places, fray at times while strengthening during others. It’s this compelling group dynamic, complicated further by constantly having to wonder if the person in front of you is really who they say they are, that forms the heart of the book.
Dead Ringers is another success by a consummate pro, a twisty, harrowing read that is more than worth your time.