"Identicals" Book Review

Written by Tony Jones

Published by Altron Services

identicals william brennan knight poster large

Written by William Brennan Knight
2022, 277 pages, Fiction
Released on 17th March 2022

Review:

William Brennan Knight’s Identicals was a recent semi-finalist in the 2021 Publishers Weekly/BookLife Prize Fiction Contest in the sci-fi/fantasy/horror category, where the judges noted that "Knight has crafted a disturbing, horrifying, and eloquently written novel that expertly captures the sensations of desperation, fear, and confusion." That quote is a decent summary of what this novel is all about and sells its oddball charms nicely. The story is built around a single clever hook, a simple ‘what if?’ moment which has horrific ripple-effect consequences. If you’ve read Pet Semetary, you already know that bringing somebody back from the dead only leads to something much worse. If you bastardise the Stephen King classic with the WW Jacobs short story The Monkeys Paw, the reader will quickly realise that events are heading downhill fast for the central character, the seriously suckered Jack Clausen.

Identicals is one of the bleakest novels I have read in a while and even though it is not especially violent, I felt I needed a shower after its conclusion, finding myself despairing for the future of humanity. Events open with Jack haunting his favourite bar and desperate for his first drink of the day, even though it is not yet noon. We soon realise he recently lost his job and has not yet told his wife whilst the debt piles up and the mortgage goes unpaid. Things are significantly worse than they are initially depicted; the previous year his five-year-old daughter was murdered and since that horrific event, his family has spiraled into a pit of despair and as a result, he also has a broken relationship with his teenage son, who clearly has his own problems. Jack is a very hard character to like and a fair bit of the first half of the novel is spent wallowing in his misery before it broadens out into a horror/thriller. I like the fact that it takes its time before revealing exactly where it is going, keeping key elements of the plot nicely shrouded and the reader on their toes as events go from dark to pitch black.

Whilst on one of his drinking binges, Jack talks to a random woman in his local bar who seems to know him and gives out a warning; “You must be on time and pay your debt.” Not knowing what she means, he ignores the vague comment and goes on another bender, rejecting repeated telephone calls from his son whilst seeking alcoholic oblivion. Once again, it is very hard to connect with a character who treats his family so shabbily and this fact definitely reduced my enjoyment of Identicals. I am not going to reveal how it plays out, but Jack is given a weird opportunity to restore his family and it is fascinating to see how everything falls into place. I did see some of the twists coming, but it is still very clever in the manner in which Jack is manipulated into a supernatural web significantly more complex than he ever imagined, and the old saying, “There is no such thing as a free lunch,” truly comes to pass (and then some).

Even though Identicals is a speedy and relatively easy read which picks up a serious pace in the second half, it is a rather one-trick pony and once the cat is out of the bag, there is little else to focus upon, as it is built around this single concept. Even though it has a neat ending, you may well find yourself wanting to know more about the ‘Identicals’ who pull the strings in the shadows of the novel. However, the characters who manipulate Jack are rather annoying instead of frightening and they also got on my nerves. Along the way there are some very jarring scenes, from the emotional family scenes in the hospital to the very funny one when a fat guy sits beside Jack on the train, even though the rest of the carriage is empty, and he begins to lose his rag.

The ability or dream of being able to change the past is a well-used concept and as points of comparison you might as well as throw in Groundhog Day and Sliding Doors, but Identicals presents this idea in a significantly darker manner. Just don’t expect to come across any Bill Murray-style characters in this book; alternatively, it is more about the cost you are willing to pay to bring your loved one back and that’s when things get really nasty. The author probably expects his readers to put themselves in Jack’s shoes and that is a place you really do not want to be. Selling your soul to the devil for fame and fortune is one of the oldest stones to overturn in horror, but the debt in Identicals is repaid in a much more human and physical way, making it much more personal than Old Nick coming knocking at your door once you’ve lived the high life.

Identicals is a solid speedy read populated with good ideas but very unlikable characters who make very dumb decisions and it is hard to feel sympathy for them. However, the author does a fine job of keeping the reader on the hook for the unpleasant reveals in the second half of the story, which is like witnessing the worst of car crashes but nevertheless remains very difficult to turn away.

Grades:

Overall: 3.5 Star Rating Cover
Buy from Amazon US.
Cover
Buy from Amazon UK.

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Tony Jones
Staff Reviewer
Such is Tony’s love of books, he has spent well over twenty years working as a school librarian where he is paid to talk to kids about horror. He is a Scotsman in exile who has lived in London for over two decades and credits discovering SE Hinton and Robert Cormier as a 13-year-old for his huge appetite for books. Tony previously spent five years writing The Greatest Scrum That Ever Was, a history book very few people bought. In the past he has written for Horror Novel Reviews and is a regular contributor to The Ginger Nuts of Horror website, often specialising in YA horror.
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