McIntosh, Will. Hitchers.

San Francisco: Nightshade Books, 2012.

What happens when you die? More germane, what happens if you don’t like it in Deadland and want to come back? Finn Darby is an Atlanta artist with a successful newspaper comic strip, “Toy Shop,” started fifty years earlier by his grandfather, who has now been dead for two years. Grandpa was a real piece of work — abusive, selfish, manipulative, cowardly, and it’s hard to say that anyone really misses him.

Unfortunately for Finn, on the very same day Grandpa bought it, so did his beloved wife, Lorena, struck by lightning in a canoe on the Chattahoochee. It’s been a long couple of years, filled with guilt for not having saved her (though he probably couldn’t have). And all that on top of the guilt he was already carrying around from the death of his twin sister nineteen years before. And if that wasn’t enough pain and confusion, Atlanta suffers the worst terrorist attack in history. And there’s something about the deaths of 600,000 people in just a few weeks that tears the barrier dividing this world from the next, and the incorporeal dead begin to return, taking up intermittent residence in the surviving bodies of people they were close to, or at least involved with. And Finn’s own personal resident ghost is Grandpa, the old bastard. But two souls apparently can’t remain forever as equal tenants of the same body.

It’s a very original idea and McIntosh — whom I confess I’ve never heard of before — rings all the changes on it with considerable skill, alternating between humor and horror and never slackening the pace. And the horror is definitely there. This isn’t a good-vs-evil thing, either. The ghosts aren’t zombies or vampires or anything so dramatic. They’re mostly just people, and they mostly just want to go home. The tension builds practically page by page and I predict you will want to read the last third of the book at one go. Is Finn going to disappear, with Grandpa taking over for good? Lorena has returned, too, and if Finn’s gone she’ll be alone again — not to mention the fate of the woman whose body she’s inhabiting. The author creates characters you’ll empathize with and care about (you really will), and his dialogue is even better. There are even occasional examples of “Toy Shop” strips — and they’re not just for glitz, either; they have a place in the story. And all the way through this amazing book, I kept thinking what a terrific film it would make.

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Published in: on 9 September 2012 at 6:14 am  Leave a Comment  
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