Claire North is a prolific writer. She is also published as Catherine Webb (YA fiction) and Kate Griffin (adult fantasy). Her novel The First Fifteen Lives Of Harry August was shortlisted for this year’s Arthur C Clarke Award (I haven’t read it yet, but plan to later this year). Touch is her follow up novel, and Orbit kindly gave me a review copy via NetGalley.
Touch follows a creature we know only as Kepler. At the point of a very violent death, Kepler touches his murderer and their consciousness transfers, leaving them possessing their murderer. Ever since, Kepler has been able to move from host body to host body by touching another person. They have jumped from person to person for centuries, spending shorter and longer lengths of time in any host body, some willing, some not.
Kepler is not the only such ‘ghost’, and has in part made a living as an ‘estate agent’, meticulously researching and identifying potential hosts for other ‘ghosts’. For a fee, of course. Many of those hosts are willing ones, choosing to exchange a portion of their lives for compensation. Where Kepler takes unwilling hosts, they choose the vulnerable, taking them out of abusive situations and transforming their lives once they move on.
But there are organisations hunting and seeking to destroy ghosts. When Kepler’s host is murdered on the Istanbul subway by just such an organisation, this triggers a rollercoaster plot of intrigue and revenge that forces Kepler to confront their own past and actions. Kepler tracks the conspiracy back to its source, piecing together the clues while on a madcap flight across Europe.
Throughout there are fascinating meditations on identity. We know little about Kepler. Nothing about age or original gender. Yet Kepler remains a fully-realised person, who unlike some of the other ghosts, becomes and identifies strongly with each host. Kepler sees below the skin, identifying the inner beauty in a person: the mix of accumulated experiences and potential that defines each of us. The body-shock horror of possession is present, but Kepler is such a benign being that it is hard to see them as anything other than a sympathetic character. Despite confusion at having lost a period of time, most hosts are left with their lives improved in some manner.
Touch is a rollercoaster thriller that builds to a dramatic climax. It’s a slick and very entertaining page-turner. Highly recommended.
Goodreads rating: 4*.