Comics, references to Charles Schulz, dead people, anthrax attacks, rock stars – Will McIntosh did a great job with weaving all these together in Hitchers. Another random book I grabbed off the new fiction shelf at the library, I was glad I did. The worst part about this book is that the cover art doesn’t match the story, and that someone at the library put the S sticker upside down on the spine of the book. I may be OCD. Just a little. But McIntosh definitely intrigued me, between his voice and the views into the afterlife, known to the characters as Deadland, it is an interesting take on humanity.
The story is written from the view of Finn Darby, a cartoonist — but only because he took over his grandfathers strip, against his dying wishes. McIntosh sets up the back story well, without burdening the reader. Then quickly gets into the action — a city full of sick and dying people. You soon learn that it was an anthrax attack, killing over half a million people, but that isn’t the worst of it. After the attack people start blurting things out, saying things they never would in voices that were not their own. Finn is affected by this second sickness and in the course of trying to figure things out ends up with Mick, a washed up musician, and Summer, a waitress with an interest in Eastern mysticism. All 3 have the voices, which soon present themselves as the dead sharing their bodies, starting as voices then manifesting into full control for increasing lengths of time.
McIntosh did a great job with the pacing of the story. From one event to another, there is a steady rhythm that pulls you along, makes you want to read to see how life goes back to normal. He also builds in a sense of urgency, can these three save themselves and each other before time runs out and the dead are there to stay. There are many twists and turns throughout the book, adding lots of flavor and more character interaction. Finn’s occupant ends up being his dead grandfather, making him likely the only person caught by the dead disobeying their dying wish. Summer’s ghost is just as difficult though, being Finn’s late wife, making him struggle between fading feelings for someone who is dead and growing feelings for someone who isn’t, all wrapped up in the same person.
My favorite part of the book though was Deadland. In the explanations, which are definitely action — being found out by the characters themselves, one bit at a time — when you die you simply stay where you are and start blowing away. Bit by bit, you lose yourself to a monotone world. When their dead companions are in charge of the body, the characters take trips into Deadland to try and find answers. Even popping out of their body entirely a few times and struggling to make it back in before it is too late. McIntosh does a great job of not only explaining this theory of death, but with how the characters deal with it and the certainty of what will happen. With all the death around them, from the anthrax attack, to the voices and full body possession, to dealing with Deadland, the characters are sufficiently shaken. They are real people coping with horrible things and they get angry and passionate and depressed over it all. This is where McIntosh’s writing really shines.