I received Red Hands from Christopher Golden’s literary agent via Grimdark Magazine after putting my hand up to provide an honest review. At the time I did not realise that this was the third instalment in a series featuring scientist and DARPA adventurer Dr Ben Walker (also known as ‘weird s**t expert’), although this did not detract from a tense and riveting read which cleverly melds both the well-worn thriller and horror genres and giving them an imaginative shot in the vein.
The reader is thrown headfirst into this high stakes drama as early as chapter one when a car drives into a crowd in the small town of Jericho Falls who are happily putting on a 4th July parade. Unknown to the stricken bystanders, the blood-soaked driver who gets out of the vehicle is the carrier of a fatal infection, killing everyone he touches except for a young lass named Maeve Sinclair who whacks him with a baseball bat. Despite her brave efforts the dying driver infects Maeve by touching her, a few instants before he kicks the bucket.
To my and Maeve’s horror the fatalities only increased when she unwittingly touches and kills a few of her loved ones, another sudden plot twist which is both ghastly and cruel. Overcome by horror and remorse, Maeve runs away and is already deep in a wooded mountain while the authorities appear on the scene and try to pick up the pieces. Enter Ben Walker, dragged away from his family vacation to soon find himself collaborating with Maeve’s family to try and find the girl while outwitting a number of various government agencies and contract killers.
It is hard not to empathise with Maeve, who finds herself alone and grief-stricken, trying to overcome the trauma of having killed family members while trying to run for her life, resist the growing impulse to touch other human beings and also falling sicker and sicker by the minute. It’s a desperate state of affairs all round, with dark undertones soon added to her predicament when it becomes apparent that Walker’s efforts may not be enough to save her life. At all times the virus is an ever-present menace, with the mystery surrounding its origins leading me to turn the pages ever more frenetically to discover where, why and how it was started.
Walker’s wit and sarcasm also make for entertaining reading, while also complementing the novel’s haunting backstory. The secondary characters are also interesting, foremost of whom is the undeterred and strong biologist Rue Crooker, a close lady friend of Maeve’s injured father Ted. All throughout his yarn Golden’s crisp prose moves the story along satisfactorily while also successfully developing a number of secondary characters whose stories prevent the novel from becoming too predictable.
The novel’s plot should resonate with readers in what has been a pandemic year, since Maeve’s fellow town dwellers find themselves in a state of quarantine while seeking to get answers from government authorities that are hard to come by. Red Hands is a story that moves along at a brisk pace, filled with enough action, adventure, mystery and horror to appeal to fans of all or each genre.