Kepler had never meant to die this way — viciously beaten to death by a stinking vagrant in a dark back alley. But when reaching out to the murderer for salvation in those last dying moments, a sudden switch takes place.
Now Kepler is looking out through the eyes of the killer himself, staring down at a broken and ruined body lying in the dirt of the alley.
Instead of dying, Kepler has gained the ability to roam from one body to another, to jump into another person’s skin and see through their eyes, live their life — be it for a few minutes, a few months or a lifetime.
Kepler means these host bodies no harm — and even comes to cherish them intimately like lovers. But when one host, Josephine Cebula, is brutally assassinated, Kepler embarks on a mission to seek the truth — and avenge Josephine’s death.
Once again I have been slain by the ending of a Claire North book. Last time this happened with The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, and Touch does remind me a lot of that one, but it’s also different in lot of ways, not just the concept.
Claire North knows how to take a ‘what if’ concept and run wild with it, while always keeping the human element of the story at the forefront. What if at the moment of your death your essence/soul escaped your body and went into someone else’s by means of skin to skin contact? Then what if you could simply possess another’s body, just jump from body to body whenever you wanted just by touching them? What if you discover you’re not alone? Kepler is a ghost, someone who spends their time living other people’s lives in order to live their own, borrowing bodies from the willing and unwilling alike. The people whose bodies they use are left with a gap in their memories, amnesia, where they have no memory of what had happened to them while they were possessed, and no knowledge of being possessed. The ghosts can step into their lives, pretend to be them–a father, a mother, a friend–and if they do it well enough then no one is the wiser. Except that someone has noticed, and has been trailing them through the wake of confusion and memory loss they leave behind them.
There’s a very disturbing aspect to the ghosts when you break it down. They can’t live without suppressing someone else’s life. They’re, essentially, parasites. But they’re people too, and you can’t help but feel for them in some ways–especially because they’re people whose lives were, for the most part, cut short early from some act of violence. But they use other people, most of the time without permission. For seconds to almost entire lifetimes, their hosts are suppressed and left with gaps in their own lives.
The characters in this are really fantastically written. No one here is an innocent, everyone is painted with shades of gray. And yet, you do empathize with most of the characters, even characters that you think of as ‘the bad guy’ in the beginning of the story. You understand their motivations and, while you may not always agree with their actions, you feel for them just a little. Kepler is a protagonist you’re rooting for, even when they sometimes do deplorable things.
One thing I love about North is that she does slice of life really well. Even though this isn’t slice of life by any means, it’s more murder mystery spec fic thriller, there are wonderful moments of slice of life embedded within the larger story. As we follow Kepler, we learn about the many lives they’ve lived over the years as a ghost, the different skins they’ve inhabited, other ghosts, and the people they’ve encountered along the way. These flashbacks serve to break up the pace as Kepler travels around the world searching for Josephine’s killer and uncovering even deeper mysteries.
You may wonder what all these little stories have to do with the main plot. Well, nothing and everything. Some of the characters that don’t seem relevant do come back up again later, in big ways. But even those that don’t serve the theme, if not the immediate plot of the story. Claire is all about showcasing humanity, in all its various shapes and forms–good, bad, and indifferent–the differences we have and the things we have in common. While the story is a murder mystery thriller on the surface, that’s not the story she’s telling when you dig a little deeper. And that’s another thing that I absolutely adore about North’s stories–they’re about that human connection. What makes us human? Why do we do the things we do? Why, and how, do we love one another? Why do we hate?
Overall, I really loved Touch and I’ll definitely have to read more North in the future. 4.5/5 stars.