A family on a day out to celebrate July 4th experiences the unthinkable.
Maeve Sinclair watches in horror as a car ploughs into a crowd. Its poorly driver reaches out for help, and everyone he touches dies immediately. The cause? A lab-made bio-weapon which has literally transformed touch into death. Its victims develop Red Hands, a condition that’s passed onto devastated Maeve, who flees when she realises she will never be able to touch or hold her loved ones ever again.
Weird science expert Dr Ben Walker – the star of author Christopher Golden’s two previous novels – is brought in to investigate. He travels to the location of the horror, the picturesque hamlet of Jericho Falls in New Hampshire, to find Maeve and protect her, because right now she’s a valuable commodity. Some will do whatever it takes to discover her secret, and Walker’s not the only one looking for her.
But (doesn’t every good novel have one?) Maeve’s sickness is diminishing her resolve to stay away from her family, and she’s increasingly craving the murderous touch of another…
Right from the get-go, Red Hands explodes into life and doesn’t give up. In fact, it’s a novel so close to real-life that it’s more than a little bit spooky. Jericho Falls is being invaded by an unstoppable, super-spreading, virus-like entity. It’s experiencing contagion, a condition passed on through human contact. The town goes into full lockdown. Maeve is now infected and is a carrier of this faceless killer. Sound familiar?
If you’d rather avoid fiction with echoes of our pandemic, then maybe this is one for your wish-list later rather than sooner. If, on the other hand (the puns are too hard to resist), you like fiction mirroring reality, then I heartily recommend getting stuck right in.
In Maeve and Walker we have the hunted and the hunter, that literary balancing act providing palpable tension and fireworks, as well as the necessary character development, which adds a nice chunk of depth to what’s already an interesting conceit. They’re both brave and smart, and though it’s Maeve’s jeopardy really driving the plot forward, these are characters we can – and do – easily care for.
But look beyond the obvious thrills and spills of this high-octane plot, and the idea of human-to-human contact being something harmful is psychologically affecting. That it’s a notion we have had to grow accustomed to during Covid-19 is shiver-inducing. That this novel explores the implications of that is pretty horrifying, and it’s impossible to read it without thinking of our current worldwide circumstances. I doubt Golden had a crystal ball when he first sat down to write this zombie-style apocalyptic tale, but in Red Hands he has without a doubt conjured up a novel for our disturbed times.
From page one to the final paragraph, it’s twisty, unpredictable, tense, terrifying, heart-breaking, an almost cinematic reading experience, and a whole lot more… Golden clearly has the magic touch (sorry).
It’s also handy that there’s no need to read the first two books in the Ben Walker series to enjoy this one. Although the pedant in me wishes I had read Ararat and The Pandora Room first, it really doesn’t matter. Like the eponymous condition, Red Hands might be what nightmares are made of, but it is rather contagious.
Hands down (the last one, I promise), this novel is well worth a place on your bookshelf.
Red Hands by Christopher Golden is published by St. Martin’s Press.