‘Red Hands’ is either creepily satisfying or a trigger for your worst nightmare

Elizabeth Hand

THE WASHINGTON POST – Have we reached the point where reality and horror fiction have become too close for comfort? The premise of Christopher Golden’s new book Red Hands is eerily resonant: A novel bio-pathogen is released upon a small American town and turmoil ensues. The book, which features classic horror elements – shambling corpses, an ancient evil unleashed – is either creepily satisfying or a trigger for your worst nightmare.

The novel opens on a bucolic scene, the annual Fourth of July parade in Jericho Falls, New Hampshire. To Maeve Sinclair, the parade is a melancholy reminder that she’s moving on to a new job in Boston. Her entire family is here: Maeve’s parents; her younger brother, Logan; her sister, Rose; and Rose’s friend, Priya as well as Tim, the guy who took her to junior prom.

But before Maeve can say her farewells, in a scene reminiscent of the opening of Stephen King’s 2014 novel Mr Mercedes, a BMW careers onto Main Street, killing several revellers. Maeve’s father, Ted, pushes Rose and Priya from its path before he slams into and over the car’s hood. When Maeve rushes to his side, she finds him alive but then Maeve witnesses something horrific. “Tim plants a hand, fingers splayed, on the driver’s bloodied T-shirt. The driver reaches out and grabs Tim by the face, shoves him backward. As Tim takes one step back, Maeve saw the imprint of the driver’s hand flare red on Tim’s skin before it fades.”

Within seconds, Tim is dead, blood streaming from his eyes and nose. When the driver lunges for a father and young child, Maeve goes after him with a baseball bat.

Unthinkingly, she grabs his wrist as he reaches for her throat. At her touch, the man perishes. Maeve does not, and her mother and brother run to her. As they embrace Maeve, both family members convulse and die.

What follows is a frightening journey into the neighbouring White Mountains, as Maeve flees from her surviving family members.

Worse, Ted, Rose and Priya aren’t the only ones trying to find Maeve. Oscar Hecht – Patient Zero, the driver of the BMW – had been a research scientist at a top secret, government-funded research facility. His job centred on Project: Red Hands, a tactile bacterium infection being developed as a bio-weapon. For reasons that remain slightly murky, Hecht injected the bacterium into himself, thereby becoming the project’s first human subject: one who was seemingly immune and a carrier, like Maeve.

Tautly written, Red Hands – the third in a series starring Walker – excels not just because of its scare factor, but also its humane depiction of grief, isolation and fear. This novel’s most haunting image isn’t the infection generated by a touch, but of loved ones pressing their hands against opposite sides of a glass wall, longing for connection.