Anyone who read last year’s surprise hit, The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, by Claire North has probably been eagerly awaiting her next story. I stumbled upon the tale of Harry August, one of a number of unique individuals who could be labeled “time traveler” (although it’s a different kind of travel), and it grabbed me immediately. I finished it in a couple of days and have had to wait almost a year to see what North would come up with next. (FYI – Claire North is the pen name for Catherine Webb, a writer with many writing credits already under her belt.)
Released last week, Touch is a similar-style story in that it focuses on a special group of individuals who have a unique talent. This isn’t a “time travel” tale–a member of this group is able to jump from body to body, transferring his (or her) consciousness and knowledge while putting the original body’s consciousness to sleep until he leaves the body. This is done with nothing but a simple touch–a handshake, a finger tapping the back of a neck, or even a kiss. Some of these people have been doing this for centuries. Some have only recently discovered the talent. There are those who seek to do no harm… and those with darker drives.
Touch centers on Kepler. Kepler may or may not be this individual’s original name. Kepler moves easily from male to female. Kepler tends to avoid taking over young and old bodies. And Kepler prefers to negotiate with hosts prior to taking control, trading lengthier time periods for cash or other benefits. When the story begins, Kepler has jumped from a willing host into a stranger’s body because the host has just been shot by an assassin. The assassin is a member of an organization that hunts down “ghosts.” Kepler was close with this host; “love” is a word that Kepler uses quite often to describe the willing hosts s/he inhabits, and Kepler is not letting this death go unpunished.
As the story progresses, readers are given glimpses into previous hosts’ lives that Kepler has experienced through the centuries. Other ghost-friends are introduced, and one entertaining part of the book is the career that Kepler assumes for a period of time–estate agent. Estate agents help other ghosts find suitable (willing or non-willing) hosts for short or long-term habitation. Of particular interest is a not-so-friendly ghost whom Kepler has encountered through the years and now believes may be partially responsible for the assassination.
Touch is well-written, and I am in awe at the careful attention North pays to the rules of the game. Jumping into strange bodies, for example, comes with risks that Kepler is all too aware of, and most questions I had about this special “ability” were answered by the story’s end: Can two ghosts inhabit the same body? Can the ability be turned off should a ghost wish to simply shake a stranger’s hand? How can a ghost die? Can a ghost jump only via skin-to-skin contact?
I always enjoy strange fiction that makes me wonder how I would respond to certain situations, and I believe many readers will find themselves wondering about life as a “ghost” and what their choices might be if put in circumstances similar to Kepler’s. The 420+ page book moves fast–chapters are extremely short and many scenes are over in a single-page or two. I found it hard to put the book down because it was so easy to just read one more chapter… and one more. And now, a few days after starting Touch, I find myself dreading the inevitable wait for North’s next book. I have a sneaky feeling it might involve an individual with a unique ability or two…