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When Tess bumps into her estranged husband she is annoyed by his offhand manner and rings him up to complain, only to discover that he is out of town with his new girlfriend. Frank Lindbergh, meanwhile, has been attacked in his home by a man who looks like a perfect copy...
Dead Ringers (2015. 310 pages) is a new horror novel, written by Christopher Golden, who is a novelist as well as a comic book writer.
The idea of doppelgangers stealing not only your life, but your very existence, is not a new concept. Harlen Ellison wrote Shatterday (1980) with a very similar theme, and Golden has taken a similar premise to create a very impressive story.
One of the great things about the story is that Golden takes time for the reader to get to know his characters. These are not your usual two dimensional people, but flawed. In fact their flaws become a big part of whether they survive the story. You actually come to care what will happen to Tess, Frank and the others, which makes the unexpected end all the more tragically poignant.
For the most part we follow Frank and Tess. Frank is a drunk who has self-sabotaged his own life, losing his career in journalism. Tess is a mother, living with her daughter Maddie, following her split from Nick. These two, amongst others, are connected via a strange occurrence in the past when a house renovation uncovered what appears to be an occult ceremony gone wrong, involving a box of mirrors.
Golden is very good at pushing the paranoia of the plot. Tess does not think she has seen her ex-husband, she knows it. This was not someone who bore a striking similarity to him, but someone who could be no one else. So how did he succeed in being out of town at the same time?
As the story continues, more doppelgangers start to appear and Tess’s paranoia turns into fear as they appear to want to do the originals harm. What is going on, and how this is related to an old house they were once involved in, lies at the heart of the story.
It is to Golden’s skill as an author that he has been able to grab a set of well-worn tropes and spin them into a highly enjoyable read.